Now that the calendar has flipper to October we can all finally forget about football and focus on what we are all really here for, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish hockey season. The hockey program is currently in the midst of an unprecedented run of success, having won back-to-back Big Ten tournament titles and making four consecutive appearances in the NCAA Tournament, including two trips to the Frozen Four and one trip to the National Championship. Despite that success, that first National Championship win for the program has proved elusive, as they’ve so far failed to get over the hump and win the last game of the season.
As with any team in college athletics, Notre Dame has last a few key pieces from last season. They do, however, have a strong leadership group returning, some younger players ready to take a step forward after some valuable experience last year, and a former Mike Richter Award winning senior goalie. All of that together, along with one of the best coaches in the country in Jeff Jackson, spells hope for Notre Dame as a new season begins.
One of Notre Dame’s biggest losses come from the forwards, where senior Dylan Malmquist graduated. The good news is that Notre Dame has a slew of young forwards coming through the system who, thanks to a few years of deep runs, have a lot more experience than you would expect for their age. Sophomore Michael Graham tied for the team lead with 12 goals in his freshman season last year and fellow sophomore Spencer Stastney came on strong enough late in the season to be named to the All Big Ten Tournament team. They’re joined by freshman Trevor Janicke, a draft pick of the Anaheim Ducks this past June.
Senior Cal Burke returns to the forward group as well this year, but this time he’ll be wearing a ‘C’ on his chest as the newly appointed team captain. Cam Morrison and Mike O’Leary, each with 21 points last season, are the other two seniors returning among the forwards, rounding out a talented and experienced leadership group. Notre Dame was sixth (out of 7) in the Big Ten last year with 2.80 goals scored per game. They will need to improve that number this season, but they certainly have the personnel to do it.
Defense has been one of Notre Dame’s greatest strengths for several seasons now. This year though, it is also where they have suffered their greatest losses. Last year’s captain Andrew Peeke and top scorer Bobby Nardella have left to join the Columbus Blue Jackets and Washington Capitals organizations respectively.
Senior Tory Dello and junior Matt Hellickson both return from what was an extremely strong group last season and this year Dello will also be an alternate captain. Notre Dame allowed only 2.27 goals per game last year, the best mark in the Big Ten. I would expect that to be higher this year, but not by much, and with the expected goal scoring improvements from the offense they have the margin for error to allow that.
This team’s greatest strength the past two years has been in net, and this season will be no different. Senior goalie Cale Morris returns this year as an alternate captain for one more season. Morris won the Mike Richter Award as the beast goalie in college hockey in 2017-18, and while his numbers dropped a bit last year, he still finished the season with a phenomenal .930 save percentage. Morris has the ability to win games almost by himself and he has before.
His backup is junior Dylan St. Cyr, who proved in limited duty last year that he has the talent to be a starter in net. With these two splitting time Notre Dame has one of if not the best goaltending situations in the country. As long as they stay healthy Notre Dame will always have high expectations.
After an exhibition game against the United States National Team Development Program, Notre Dame opens their season at home against the Air Force Falcons on October 11. They open Big Ten conference play at the Minnesota Golden Gophers on November 1 and have a marquee non-conference home-and-home matchup against the Boston College Eagles in early December.
Key Big Ten matchups to look out for include the Ohio State Buckeyes (Nov. 8-9, Jan. 17-18), the Penn State Nittany Lions (Dec. 13-14, Jan. 31-Feb.1), and the Michigan Wolverines (Jan. 10-11, Feb. 21-22).
The Big Ten Tournament begins on March 6 with the final held on March 21. The NCAA Tournament will be held from March 27-April 11 with the Frozen Four taking place at the Little Caesars Arena in Detroit.
Notre Dame’s recent success has raised expectations for the program to the point where competing for conference titles and making the NCAA tournament is now expected. That’s a good thing, and I don’t see any reason why that can’t happen again this season. The Big Ten has some heavyweights, including the Ohio State Buckeyes and Penn State Nittany Lions. They also have some teams expected to improve significantly this year, most notably the Wisconsin Badgers.
As long as Notre Dame has Jeff Jackson behind the bench and Cale Morris in goal though they should be considered one of the favorites. I expect this team to be right in the thick of the Big Ten title race while they look to stretch their streak to five straight NCAA appearances. It’ll be another fun season at the Compton Family Ice Arena.