Oct 3, 2012, 8:54 AM EDT
Over the last several years, Notre Dame hockey has followed an interesting pattern. In 2009, the Irish won both the CCHA regular-season and tournament titles en route to a 1-seed in the NCAA tournament. The next year, they finished 13-17-8, but rebounded in 2011 to make the Frozen Four. Last year, head coach Jeff Jackson’s team failed to make the tournament with a 17-16-3 record.
With an exhibition against the USA under-18 team this Sunday and the first regular-season game Oct. 12, Notre Dame is ready to make 2012-2013 follow the pattern with another successful campaign. But while Jackson might take another up year for 2013, he is also looking to break the cycle.
“I’d prefer to think about getting rid of the down years,” Jackson said at the team’s media day on Monday. “Consistency is something we want to establish here, and I think we’re right at the cusp right now of taking the step to where we can learn to be a good program every year. This year’s just another step in that direction because to me, sometimes you have to lose to learn how to win.”
Ranked 10th in the USA Today preseason poll, the Irish have the talent to be successful, but face a daunting schedule. In addition to conference match-ups in the perennially tough CCHA, the team will face Minnesota-Duluth, North Dakota, and Boston College.
“If you want to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best,” Jackson said. “It’s a tough, tough schedule, but I’d rather play those games. Obviously, you’re not going to win 100 percent of them because you’re playing elite-level opponents, but the thing is, I want those games to make us better in February.”
Helping Notre Dame’s chances will be the influx of freshmen players that are new to the team. Despite losing Riley Sheahan and former captains Billy Maday and Sean Lorenz, the Irish believe the new additions will bring the team success.
“They’re very selfless as a group and they have a lot of skill,” junior Mike Voran said. “What I really like about them is they’ve come in and re-amped up our program with some energy. Because our junior class is so big, as you get older sometimes the energy and excitement go down a bit. So they’ve got us re-energized and excited for things to come.”
The incoming class will get its first opportunity to experience Notre Dame hockey with the opening Ice Breaker Tournament in Kansas City, Oct. 12-13.
“I’m excited for the tournament, getting to play some college teams after this weekend. I’m sure it will be a blast. Everybody’s getting amped up for that. It’s going to be fun traveling, and then feeling it out – seeing how college hockey is,” freshman Thomas DiPauli said. “It’s been incredible so far getting to know all the guys, hanging out with them, spending time on the ice and working out with them. It’s been a really, really fun experience.”
Like last year, the Irish will look to start strong in non-conference play with the Ice Breaker Tournament. After beginning 2011-2012 with a 10-2-3 record, the team will look to emulate that success – and find a way to carry it into the second-half.
“There’s definitely a big opportunity for us to improve from last year,” junior Stephen Johns said. “It was definitely a huge disappointment, coming in last year being the top rank with such high expectations and kind of letting them down. This year we’re looking to take it one game at a time, being more of a team and having each other’s backs more.”
After feeling the pressure of expectations last season, the Irish will be in the spotlight once again as they try to get back to the NCAA tournament. With the team’s knack for rebounding from disappointment and the most successful coach in program history at the helm, the Irish might just continue the pattern of the last several years – hopefully for just one more season.
“One thing that I’ve learned here is that the great teams I had in the past learn to embrace those expectations and not fear them,” Jackson said. “That comes with a winning program with that mindset, like every year coming in that we’re going to try to do something special.”
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