Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Know Your Enemy: Notre Dame

Welcome back to Without a Peer's annual exercise in opponent analysis, Know Your Enemy. As always, we'll spend every Wednesday from now until the season starts breaking down the teams featured on the Engineers' upcoming schedule, look at what they've done since we last saw them, and try to give some insight on what to expect when RPI faces off with them. We start as always with the first opponent the 'Tute will see in a competitive game, a program that has seen quite a few changes over the last few seasons but are still in search of an elusive national championship that would raise them another level as an elite program.

Notre Dame
Nickname: Fighting Irish
Location: South Bend, IN
Founded: 1842
Conference: Hockey East
National Championships: 0
Last NCAA Appearance: 2014
Last Frozen Four: 2011
Coach: Jeff Jackson (10th season)
2013-14 Record: 23-15-2 (9-9-2 Hockey East, 7th place)
Series: Notre Dame leads, 4-3-0
First Game: December 29, 1988 (Troy, NY)
Last RPI win: January 1, 2005 (South Bend, IN)
Last ND win: October 21, 2011 (South Bend, IN)

2014-15 game: October 10, 2014 (South Bend, IN)

Key players: D Eric Johnson, sr.; D Robbie Russo, sr.; F Peter Schneider, sr.; F Austin Wuthrich, sr.; F Thomas DiPauli, jr.; F Steven Fogarty, jr.; F Sam Herr, jr.; F Mario Lucia, jr.; D Andy Ryan, jr.; F Vince Hinostroza, so.; D Jordan Gross, fr.; F Connor Hurley, fr.; F Andrew Oglevie, fr.; G Cal Petersen, fr.; D Luke Ripley, fr.

Previous KYE installment:
When last the Engineers encountered the Fighting Irish, it was a very special occasion - RPI had the honor of being the very first opponent for Notre Dame in their brand new cathedral of ice hockey, the Compton Family Ice Arena. This year, they return to that building to take on the home team in the first round of the annual Icebreaker tournament.

At the time the building opened, there was a lot of buzz not only about the sparkling new digs, but also the recent news that Notre Dame would move from the crumbling CCHA to join Hockey East in two seasons' time - and there was a bit of discussion at the time that RPI could be a potential 12th member, which would mean that the game featured two teams from different conferences that might have been league-mates in a third conference in the near future. That didn't end up happening as UConn stepped up to claim that 12th spot that they fit so well into.

As for the Irish, the remainder of the 2011-12 campaign was middling for them at best as they completed the first season in the new barn with a record just over .500, failing to take home any hardware. Since then, however, the Irish have seen a pair of NCAA bids, claiming the final CCHA championship in 2013 and then earning an at-large bid despite a rough go of things in their first season in Hockey East thanks in part to their three-game upset of arch-rivals Boston College in the Hockey East quarterfinals. Both seasons, however, Notre Dame fell to St. Cloud State in the first round of the national tournament.

Next year's edition of the Irish will undoubtedly be better accustomed to the more rigorous travel schedule required when all of your road games in conference involve trips to New England, but that will matter very little when the Engineers arrive in South Bend for what will be the first game of the year for both squads. Notre Dame is graduating their top two scorers, but they had four players with 30 points last year and two of them, Lucia (son of Minnesota head coach Don Lucia) and Hinostroza are part of the young core of the Fighting Irish, along with Herr who potted 14 goals last season.

The question marks for Notre Dame next season are mostly on defense, as they graduate three seniors who played in all 40 games last year along the blue line for the Irish, as well as a goaltender who started 99 games in his career and all but a little under 200 of his teams minutes last season. The only returning netminder appeared in only five games last season, but Petersen should probably be considered the favorite for the starting job and will likely see his first college action against the Engineers.

That may be the biggest opportunity that RPI will have in this game - although a similar situation arose last year against Boston College and Thatcher Demko, and the freshman easily made his way through that contest while being lifted by an offensive barrage. Since the offense isn't going to be in question heading into the coming year for the Irish, nothing short of a complete game on both sides of the puck is likely to be enough to keep the visitors in the game come October.

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