Thursday, July 2, 2015

Know Your Enemy: Notre Dame

RPI is always going to have a minor place in Notre Dame's hockey history - they were the opponent for the Fighting Irish in their beautiful new on-campus facility, the Compton Family Ice Arena. The home team won that one in front of a sellout crowd, but it appears that the Engineers may have taken a bit of a liking to the place. They'll play there for the fourth and fifth times when they arrive in November for the Shillelagh Tournament, the third season in five that they're making a trip to Indiana and the second in a row for a tournament following last year's Icebreaker. An upset victory over the Irish opened the season well for RPI (in what would prove to be an exception game rather than a harbinger), but this year, they won't face Notre Dame unless the stars align for the second night of the tourney.

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 (11th season)
2014-15 Record: 18-19-5 (10-7-5 Hockey East, 5th place)
Series: Tied, 4-4-0
First Game: December 29, 1988 (Troy, NY)
Last RPI win: October 10, 2014 (South Bend, IN)
Last ND win: October 21, 2011 (South Bend, IN)

2015-16 game: November 28, 2015 (South Bend, IN - possible)

Key players: F Thomas DiPauli, sr.; F Steven Fogarty, sr.; F Sam Herr, sr.; F Mario Lucia, sr.; D Andy Ryan, sr.; D Justin Wade, jr.; F Anders Bjork, so.; F Jake Evans, so.; D Jordan Gross, so.; F Connor Hurley, so.; G Cal Petersen, so.; D Luke Ripley, so.; F Cal Burke, fr.; F Christian Fischer, fr.; D Dennis Gilbert, fr.; F Dylan Malmquist, fr.; F Andrew Oglevie, fr.; F Joe Wegwerth, fr.

Previous KYE installments:
Things looked good after the Engineers beat the Irish last season. Viktor Liljegren had his freshman coming out party by scoring the team's first goal of the year, Mark Miller hit the game winner as a response to a Notre Dame goal less than a minute earlier, and Jason Kasdorf looked superb in his return to competition after nearly a year away from the ice. Most predicted that the Fighting Irish were going to roll RPI, and while the Engineers looked pretty decent, ND had a rough game.

Ultimately, Notre Dame meandered their way through the season to a fairly pedestrian record. They weren't awful, but they also weren't that great in the end. After dropping two games at home in the Icebreaker, the Irish burned through the rest of the month of October, going 5-0-1 in six straight home games following the tournament - not that clowning Lake Superior State and Niagara was much to be proud of last season.

The team never really got into a good flow in Hockey East play, with relatively few quality wins on the year. They mostly beat the teams they needed to beat, but with the exception of a 3-point weekend against Boston University in February, they had a paucity of signature statements to show for their 5th place finish, an end that forced them to compete in the first round of the Hockey East playoffs against a UMass team that struggled all year long.

When fans settled in for Game 1 against the Minutemen in South Bend, none knew that they'd have to stick around until almost 1:30 in the morning if they were going to see a winner - and it wasn't going to be the Irish. In what became the longest game in the history of college hockey (shockingly, not lost by Union), UMass and Notre Dame went for five overtimes and 151:22 of game play, besting the previous longest game by 1:20 before the Minutemen won it. Notre Dame's Cal Petersen broke RPI netminder Dick Greenlaw's NCAA record for most saves in a game by stopping 87 shots (although, let's be fair, Greenlaw's 78 came in a 60 minute, 9-0 loss against BU) but it wasn't enough.

Losing the longest game ever to the worst team in the league didn't break the Irish, though. They came back for a victory hours later in Game 2, then crushed UMass 7-0 in Game 3. The next weekend, they took UMass-Lowell to a third game, but gave up 11 goals during losses in Games 1 and 3. It was not enough to salvage even a .500 season - not the way you'd expect to see a team with 10 NHL draftees on its roster complete a year.

The Irish will again have 10 NHL draftees this coming season, as two graduating seniors and former junior-to-be Vince Hinostroza have all left the program for the NHL, and they're replaced by three incoming freshmen, two of which were drafted this past weekend - Fischer in the 2nd round, Gilbert in the 3rd. Wegwerth was taken in the 4th round in 2014.

Most teams tend to blend their NHL draftees in with the non-draftees in terms of who's shouldering the burden, but last season Notre Dame leaned heavily on its most talented players to guide the way on offense. Herr and Gross are the only returning non-draftees that were in the top 12 on the team in scoring. That probably means the team is going to expect a great deal out of Fischer and Wegwerth especially, but likely also from Malmquist, a high school teammate of Lou Nanne.

Defensively, expect a tighter net with Petersen now having a season of college hockey under his belt and the defensive corps growing more experienced than last year's grouping, which had just one senior and one junior getting regular playing time on the blue line. An RPI-ND matchup would be one Buffalo Sabres fans could take some interest in, as it would pair Petersen's Irish against Jason Kasdorf's Engineers in a battle between the Sabres' top two college prospects in net. Kasdorf was a Jets prospect when the teams faced last year, and Petersen didn't play against RPI anyway.

Notre Dame has achieved the status of "team that won't stay down for long," and last year was certainly a down year in their books. Expect a much better rounded team effort from the Fighting Irish this season if the Engineers cross paths with them again for two reasons - they'll have an overall better squad next season, and the faceoff will come nearly two months into the season, as opposed to the very beginning of the year as in last year's game.

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