Fresh off its extended break for finals and the holidays, the Notre Dame hockey team returns to a project assigned by head coach rather than professor.
Midway through the season and ranked No. 6 in the country might sound like an inauspicious time to establish group identity, but after battling a stretch of inconsistency including a four-game losing streak before the long Christmas layoff, there might be no better moment.
“The closest team is usually the one that wins at the end of the year,” said captain Sean Lorenz. “I think that’s going to be the biggest thing for us; staying close and finding out what our team identity is … We really wanna focus making sure we have that team identity to fall back on together.”
Sorting through such an abstract concept takes on a new level of importance given the timing of its practical application.
Notre Dame (11-6-3) returns from its time off to the ice at 7:05 p.m. tonight with a Top 10 matchup at the Compton Family Ice Arena against No. 9 Boston University. It will be televised nationally on VERSUS, which will transition to the NBC Sports Network next year.
Matching up against the Hockey East powerhouse will be made more difficult without center T.J. Tynan and defenseman Stephen Johns as both play in the World Junior Championships, although BU is in a similar situation with top players missing.
“That’s the nature of the beast around Christmas time,” said head coach Jeff Jackson. “To me it’s better to play teams that are in the same boat as you. We play Minnesota too the following week. The teams that are also losing guys to the World Juniors, it’s always good to play those teams because if you don’t you’re kind of in trouble.”
Without Tynan the Irish lose their leading points and assists man while Johns represents their most rugged defensive stopper.
But in times of uncertainty in some areas comes opportunity for others. Sophomore defenseman Jared Beers has only played in three games this season but is likely to get a significant run with Johns away. Freshman defenseman Eric Johnson could get his first action of the season. Wingers Rich Ryan, Garrett Peterson and Peter Schneider can all expect more minutes.
“We have a deep enough team where guys can fill in,” Lorenz said. “It goes back to staying close together, staying positive and finding that team identity to fall back on because we’re such a deep team we can kind of rotate guys in and out. I think guys can fill in perfectly fine.”
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After VERSUS is done televising the game tonight it will roll into a behind the scenes documentary of the program called “Onward to Victory – Notre Dame hockey.”
Camera crews followed Notre Dame players and coaches the weekend of its game against Boston College, a thrilling overtime victory. It will be a one-hour show starting at about 9:30 p.m.
“It’s gonna be great for our fans,” Jackson said. “It’ll be great for the parents of our players. It certainly won’t hurt recruiting. Those are the kind of things that help build a program. We’re just starting this whole thing with the new rink and changing leagues in a year. We’ve had some success here but, in my opinion, this is kind of like the early stages of building something really special.”