Notre Dame gives Hockey East a taste of what’s to come

Hockey East fans who were at Kelley Rink last Friday night got a glimpse of just how great it may be to have Notre Dame in the league beginning next year.

The Fighting Irish, from the opening faceoff, went toe-to-toe with No. 1 Boston College, finally falling 3-1. Fans were treated to some back-and-forth action featuring crisp passing on both sides of the puck, stellar defense from both clubs and, at the end of the day, a preview of the talent that Notre Dame is going to bring to Hockey East beginning in the 2013-14 season.

When asked about Boston College and the talent level this program brings to the table, Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson was simple with his words.

“We aspire to play the way they play,” Jackson said.

He also noted that the overall talent level, particularly the speed in Hockey East, is something that drew Notre Dame to the league and something he’s excited to experience next season.

“I’ve said it all along that one of the things I look forward to about joining Hockey East is that we’re trying to build a team based on skill and speed. It’s still a work in progress in some areas,” Jackson said. “But I like the style of play in Hockey East for the majority of the teams. It’s not just BC. BU plays an up-tempo game; UNH plays an up-tempo game. Maine, when they’re playing at a high level, is an up-tempo team. There are a lot of teams in that category.

“There are a lot of good programs that play a great style of play. We want to be part of that and we’re looking forward to it.”

Something that was clear on Friday was the rivalry that exists between Notre Dame and Boston College. A battle that began on the gridiron, it expanded to the hockey rink in the mid-1990s when the two teams often met up with one another the night before the football game. Such was the case last weekend as undefeated Notre Dame football marched into BC’s Alumni Stadium on Saturday and handed the Eagles a 21-6 loss.

When Notre Dame comes into Hockey East, that won’t always be feasible, not for the reason of the conference change but due to the fact BC and Notre Dame football will no longer meet annually with the Irish joining the ACC in all sports besides football. The Irish will expand the number of ACC schools it plays and likely will face the Eagles every other year.

That, though, isn’t expected to take anything away from the rivalry that BC and Notre Dame have developed on the ice, one that peaked in the 2008 NCAA championship game when the Eagles won 4-1 to capture their first of three titles in five years.

“I hope [it remains] a rivalry,” BC forward Pat Mullane said. “Just because they are in our league, I don’t think it will put that on the back burner. The fact that we get to play them twice a year or three times a year is even better.”

BC coach Jerry York agreed.

“I think it’s going to enhance the rivalry coming into our league,” York said. “When you’re in a league, like we have with BU, it makes it special. I’m sure Notre Dame is going to enjoy some competition there.”

Finally, a win for Maine

All of the ugliness coming out of Orono ended, at least for now, last Saturday night when the Maine Black Bears ended a seven-game losing streak that saw the club crush a record-low mark for offense.

Tim Whitehead (Maine - Head Coach) The University of Maine Black Bears defeated the University of New Hampshire Wildcats 5-4 in overtime on Saturday, January 7, 2012, at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Melissa Wade)
Maine coach Tim Whitehead says scoring balance is the only way the Black Bears are going to pull out of an early hole (photo: Melissa Wade).

The Black Bears, entering Saturday, had scored just 11 goals in the first 10 games, posting a forgettable 1-9 record during that span. The 11 goals were nine (yes, nine!) fewer than the previous low for 10 games. Twice, the Black Bears have scored 20 goals in that span.

That streak snapped on Saturday night when the Black Bears knocked off then-nationally ranked Massachusetts-Lowell 4-3. When you’ve put up only 11 goals in 10 games, the thought of scoring four in the same game had to seem foreign to this Maine team.

What was impressive about the four goals is that members of each of Maine’s four lines scored. That included rookie defenseman-turned-forward Kyle Williams, who picked up his first career goal which turned out to be the winner.

“I don’t even know what to say, it’s pretty unbelievable,” Williams said of the goal. “I’m just happy to be able to put the team on the right track with the win.”

The balance in the offense is something that Maine coach Tim Whitehead hopes isn’t just a one-time thing. He realizes, having lost significant goal-scoring from last year’s NCAA tournament team, that if the Black Bears have any chance at success they need to get goals from everywhere and anywhere.

“That’s the only way we’re going to make it happen,” Whitehead said.

One change for the Black Bears that appears to be a somewhat permanent one is between the pipes. Dan Sullivan began the season as the team’s No. 1 goaltender but he started 0-6 with a 3.38 goals against average and .898 save percentage.

It seems Whitehead is handing the reins over to junior Martin Ouellette, and he made a number of critical saves to preserve last Saturday’s win, stopping all 13 shots he faced in the third.

“He was fabulous. I’m so proud of him,” Whitehead said. “He deserved a better fate because we handed them two breakaways [that resulted in goals]. They had some chances aside from those in which he made some big saves. He was the best player on our team. He’s really emerging for us. He’s still a young kid but he’s really coming into his own.”

Regardless of individual performances, for Maine the most important thing to come out of that game was the victory.

“It’s good to get that weight off our back, get that win and start moving forward,” Whitehead said.

New recruiting questions for NU

Northeastern on Wednesday announced that freshman Cam Darcy has left school, and reports say that he’ll return to the USHL and join the Muskegon Lumberjacks.

Darcy was a highly touted recruit for NU and, until Kevin Roy made a late decision last summer to attend Northeastern, Darcy was easily the top recruit in this year’s class.

Darcy was originally recruited to attend Northeastern by former coach Greg Cronin. Reports had surfaced that Darcy was among a small handful of players who decided to decommit after Cronin’s departure but this past year, the school reported Darcy would attend this September.

In NU’s upset of Boston College on Oct. 13, Darcy set up two of the Huskies’ goals. He never scored another point after that, though, and departed with a plus-1 rating and eight penalty minutes in nine games.

What is interesting in this situation, though, will be the future for Darcy. A true freshman, the 18-year-old can still be recruited by other schools and will have three full years of eligibility remaining.

If you’re a Huskies fan, your stomach may turn a bit remembering that just a year ago Johnny Gaudreau decommitted from Northeastern only to resurface across town at Boston College, becoming a key player in BC’s NCAA championship run last April.

The question will be when Darcy would be eligible to play again and how much eligibility he has remaining.

According to the NCAA’s “Transfer 101” publication, regardless of the number of games Darcy played, he must sit out one academic year at a new institution before he is eligible to play. Thus, if Darcy finishes this season in Muskegon and transfers to another Division I school beginning in September 2013, he will have three years eligibility remaining beginning in September 2014.

If Darcy returns to college hockey next September, Darcy will be 20 years old when he can return to play, still close to the age of the average college freshman, thus a transfer isn’t out of the question whatsoever.