Friday, October 05, 2007

Season Preview: Notre Dame

Head Coach Jeff Jackson says:
"We're excited about the upcoming season. Last year is behind us and we have a really strong returning group of forwards. We did lose seven seniors that all played a regular place in our line-up and will be difficult to replace from a character standpoint, leadership standpoint. We are just as excited about the incoming freshmen class that we have coming in. That should give us some stability I'm sure with a few bumps early on to try and improve our back end with a couple freshmen defensemen and young goaltending. We are excited about the prospects up front with Erik Condra, Ryan Thang. Kevin Deeth and Mark Van Guilder returning. On the back side, I think that Kyle Lawson and Brock Sheahan will be two of the better (defensemen) in the conference. We expect our goaltending to be good. I think Jordan Pearce, a junior, is somebody that has potential to be a great goaltender in the CCHA. We have an outstanding freshman in Brad Phillips that we think will be good in time. We are excited about the prospects and we are excited about a new building in the next couple of years. There are a lot of positive things going on in the hockey program. I would like to think we are going to have a great season this year and hopefully consistency will be part of building this program into something special."

Last season was a breakthrough year for the Irish. Coach Jeff Jackson led the school to their first ever number one ranking and number one seed in the NCAA tournament. They fell just short of the Frozen Four losing to Michigan State in the Midwest Regional Final.

If you believe the preseason rankings, the Irish are due for a bit of a step back this season. They were picked to finish third in the league behind Miami and Michigan State, and 8th nationally. But I believe the Irish will be just as good, if not better than they were last season.

When discussing the Irish, the first place everyone starts with is in goal. The Irish lost Hobey Baker finalist David Brown to graduation. Without a doubt it's a huge loss for Notre Dame, but the question is, was Notre Dame a product of Brown's success, or was Brown a product of Notre Dame's success? Brown was an excellent goaltender, but in looking at his stats, he only saw, on average, about 23 saves per game. If Notre Dame's defense can limit shots that much again this year, they don't need their new starter, whoever it is, to be spectacular and steal wins, they just need him to be solid and not make too many mistakes. Junior Jordan Pearce and Freshman Brad Phillips will compete for playing time, though Phillips looks like the long-term solution in goal and will likely be given every opportunity to win the starting job.

The Irish also lost six other seniors, including a couple on the blueline. It's an interesting choice of words from Jackson when he says that they will be "difficult to replace from a character standpoint, leadership standpoint." While they do lose experience and leadership, they gain a huge advantage in talent thanks to Jackson's first recruiting class, which included two defensive gems in Ian Cole, Notre Dame's first ever first round NHL draft pick, and Teddy Ruth, who both gained collegiate experience playing for the NTDP U18 team last season.

The Irish also returns a ton of talent from last year's team. Kyle Lawson and Brock Sheahan could both be all-conference selection in a pretty weak year for defenseman in the CCHA. At forward, Erik Condra and Mark VanGuilder have both developed as dangerous scoring threats. Sophomores Ryan Thang and Kevin Deeth both had excellent freshman seasons last year, and behind them, there are some talented incoming freshman that could surpise people, just as Thang and Deeth did last year.

The Irish should be one of the best teams in college hockey this year. They may get off to a slow start until they figure out their goaltending situation, but by the end of the year, they will be one of the most dangerous teams in the NCAA.