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College Hockey:
Commentary: What’s wrong with Notre Dame? Look to the schedule, absences

A brief aside to start. Don Cherry seems to lower his IQ each time he opens his mouth. I cringed reading his quote about the recently fired Brian Burke when he said “All this guy did was go get Swedes, Finns and U.S. college kids.”

Last I looked, since Canada last won gold at the World Junior Championship, three of the four teams that have won it were the Swedes and two U.S. teams with a ton of U.S. college kids.

By the way, Burke’s track record in the world of the NHL in many capacities dwarfs anything Cherry did as an NHL coach. Burke, a graduate of Providence, was the general manager of the 2007 Stanley Cup-winning Ducks.

Now back to our regularly scheduled program.

A buddy of mine asked me Saturday morning, “What the [heck] is wrong with Notre Dame?”

Well, the Irish played six games in 12 days (four on the road) out of the break and that wreaked havoc on their routine. They also played without Mike Voran and Jeff Costello, who bring more to that team than the layman’s eye will see.

What is interesting about that schedule and how it hurt Notre Dame is that most kids who play in the NCAA have played that type of hellacious pro-style schedule in the USHL, NAHL, EJHL or various other upper-level travel hockey leagues.

However, they are trained and bred to play that type of schedule. Once they start in the NCAA their schedule on and off the ice is geared to two games on the weekend, a routine of weight lifting, an off-ice schedule and, of course, academics.

With that schedule askew for a couple of weeks, prep time, video sessions and hard practices had to be scaled down. With athletes being creatures of habit and coaches knowing what their teams can handle, Irish coach Jeff Jackson saw his team out of sorts and it didn’t handle it well.

Notre Dame snapped its funk last Saturday with a solid win over a good Ferris State team to salvage a home split. The Irish head to Columbus this weekend to face a well-coached and disciplined team in Mark Osiecki’s Ohio State Buckeyes.

This is a huge weekend for Notre Dame. Players need to show each other that they are on the same page and that they are the same team they were in the first half.

I have said it in many public forums and will say it again here: I believe Steve Summerhays can be an elite NCAA goalie. I like Notre Dame’s team and its makeup. It has a good one-through-five rotation on the back line and Eric Johnson is a solid sixth.

Their top two lines have skill and energy and can be hard to play against. T.J. Tynan is a threat to score even between periods.

While I do think that Notre Dame needs to step up and retake control of the CCHA starting this weekend to rebuild some trust and confidence, it is one of four or five legit teams who can win the national championship.

That takes us to Ferris State. The defending Frozen Four runner-up from Big Rapids, Mich., is another team that is pretty well constructed. It has a great top four of mobile defensemen that can create offense, it has a very good goalie, it is well coached and its top seven forwards are as good as any group in the CCHA.

The Bulldogs give you fits because they can activate two different sets of defensemen and have a couple of lines that can get things going on the rush. That enables their defensemen to be even more effective offensively.

Another team that closely resembles Ferris State is Alaska. I got to see four consecutive games the Nanooks played on their sojourn through Michigan and Indiana, and they have it going in the right direction.

The Nanooks are another team with good offensive defensemen and a solid goalie but where they differ from Ferris is offensively. Their second line with Nik Yaremchuk, Tyler Morley and Jarret Granberg is pretty hard to defend. In theory the big line of Colton Beck, Cody Kunyk and Andy Taranto should be also but they have struggled as a trio lately. If the talented top three forwards from Fairbanks get going consistently, Alaska becomes a team you want no part of.

This weekend Michigan and Michigan State play two games and the CCHA has billed the weekend as “Renew The Rivalry.” Not to be a cynic but if you have to renew the rivalry between these teams there is a major problem.

These two schools would argue about which has the better-located Starbucks in proximity to campus (my vote is MSU here). The fact that the rivalry between these two is perceived to have slipped is alarming.

The CCHA, which is doing a fabulous job with the “Celebrate the Legacy” campaign in its final season, could have scored a coup this weekend with this idea. Hear me out here and forget for one second that the NCAA probably would never allow it because of how good this is.

Tom Anastos is the head coach at MSU and former commissioner of the CCHA. He is as bright a marketing and PR person as college hockey has had in the past decade. He is secure in his new role with the Spartans and is recreating the buzz Ron Mason started at Munn. I am sure he would gladly move over a step or two this weekend if MSU signed Mason to a two-game contract and allowed him to coach against someone who was his rival, Red Berenson of Michigan, one last weekend. It is the final time these teams will meet in the regular season as CCHA rivals before going to the Big Ten next season.

How cool would that be? I’d think that would sell out Joe Louis Arena in a heartbeat and, despite the Wings being back, this would create a stir in Hockeytown. It would also create a major buzz at Yost Ice Arena for Friday’s game there, and there hasn’t been much of a buzz there this season.

A few years back the New York Islanders noticed Al Arbour had coached 1,499 games with the team in his Hall of Fame career. They invited him back for one more for an even 1,500. It was a magical night at the Nassau Coliseum.

This idea hit me as I planned to attend the Yale-Quinnipiac game Saturday. I thought to myself how unique it is that these teams, located about 10 miles apart in Connecticut, will play on the same night as MSU and Michigan and the Yale-Quinnipiac game will have more at stake, heightening their rivalry. The game has conference and national implications and it will be an awesome event to see.

Imagine one last weekend with Mason behind the bench in the CCHA flanked by two former great players in Anastos and Kelly Miller and longtime assistant Tom Newton. Mason and Berenson defined the CCHA for many years and the MSU-Michigan rivalry has never been the same since Mason left (with no disrespect intended to Rick Comley). Those two made a lot of history in the CCHA. Imagine the legacy this weekend could leave with an unprecedented move like this one.

Food for thought.


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  • IHF

    I think the excuses for Notre Dame’s play are all crap. If an odd schedule is to be blamed, blame Jackson and the university, because no one forced them to play the midweek games. Both could have been played on Saturdays (or in the case of the BG game in one single Fri-Sat weekend) and mid week games are not unheard of anyway.

    Notre Dame appears to get away with relying on talent and talent alone anymore, and once enough is known about the team, and enough film becomes available, well prepared teams can shut them down. Mike Babcock said it best, work beats talent when talent doesn’t work. And as I am fond of saying, talent is a heavy burden, and it is proving to be too heavy for Notre Dame to shoulder. Very disappointing to waste all that talent and that shiny new barn.

  • soze

    Great column, Dave. Your thoughts about Cherry are spot-on. The guy does not actually watch hockey.

    Regarding Steven Summerhays, I think you are off-base. The time for him to prove himself elite is long past. He is, frankly, an average goaltender at best. If there’s a hole in the swing, it’s that Jackson doesn’t recruit elite goaltending talent.