Notre Dame has a lot to live up to. After finishing the 2011-12 season tied for eighth place, the Fighting Irish topped the CCHA preseason coaches poll and were second in the media balloting.
“Like everyone,” coach Jeff Jackson said, “we have high expectations going into the year. For the last two years we have had a fairly young team. Now, especially led by a fairly big junior class, we are a much more experienced team. I think that hopefully will help us learn to be more consistent on a regular basis and also embrace expectations as opposed to letting them overcome us. I think that was a problem last year.”
Two seasons ago, the Irish ended their season at the Frozen Four with a 4-3 loss to eventual champion Minnesota-Duluth. In 2011-12, Notre Dame began the season strong before swooning in the second half, earning just four league wins down the stretch before sweeping Ohio State at home in the first round of the CCHA playoffs. ND’s season ended with two close road losses to Michigan in the CCHA quarterfinals.
“With that large class we had as freshmen two years ago getting to the Frozen Four, I think expectations became a little bit more of a negative than a positive, with guys putting so much pressure on themselves,” Jackson said. “Coming back as sophomores I think a number of them had years that were not close to what they were as freshmen.”
Two forwards from that group, juniors Anders Lee and T.J. Tynan, return as Notre Dame’s top two scorers, but neither had the numbers last year that he put up the year before. Lee went from 24 goals his rookie season to 17 last year. Tynan from 23 to 13.
“They’re both two different types of players but they both bring a lot to the table,” Jackson said. “T.J.’s obviously a dynamic player. Good things happen when he’s on the ice. His high energy level and skill level almost always make a difference in every situation that we play.
“Anders is more of a power guy, good shot and goal scorer. We’re moving him to center this year. I expect great things from both of them, but it’s going to be about a number of other guys and how they come back from last year.”
Among those other guys are juniors Jeff Costello, Bryan Rust and Mike Voran, senior Nick Larson and sophomore Austin Wuthrich. These five forwards had 27 goals total among them.
Another position that needs strengthening is goal, but Jackson is positive about the progress that sophomore Steven Summerhays (2.43 goals against average, .910 save percentage) made last season.
“I thought that Steve Summerhays took a big step in the second half of last year,” Jackson said. “In the last two or three months he played really well.”
Jackson hopes to see improvement in the Irish defense as well, which was 23rd in the nation last season, allowing 2.67 goals per game.
“We have a four-man junior class on defense,” Jackson said. “Those guys are going to be relied upon to be a factor for us.”
Those four include Jared Beers, Stephen Johns, Kevin Lind and Shayne Taker.
In all, Jackson sounds optimistic about his team’s chances this year — which puts him right in step with everyone else, apparently.
“Hopefully this year,” Jackson said, “having gone through the good and the bad, I think that group will certainly be able to rebound from an off season for a number of them. We are excited.”
About the Fighting Irish
2011-12 overall record: 19-18-3
2011-12 CCHA record: 12-13-3-0 (tie, eighth)
2012-13 predicted finish (coaches poll): First
Key losses: F Billy Maday, F Riley Sheahan, D Sean Lorenz
Players to watch: F Anders Lee, F Bryan Rust, F T.J. Tynan, D Sam Calabrese
Impact rookie: F Sam Herr
Why the Fighting Irish will match their selection in the coaches poll: They’re picked to finish first because they return a strong, veteran team.
Why the Fighting Irish will finish lower than the coaches poll: The Irish have to show that they’ve overcome the pitfalls of success — like those evidenced by the team’s performance last season.