Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct. 26, 2019*

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 48 of 55 OCT. 26, 2019 49 ND SPORTS BY TODD D. BURLAGE W inning the 2019 Big Ten Tournament last March and then ending its 2018-19 season with a trip to the final eight of the NCAA Tournament doesn't seem to fit the profile of a pro- gram that actually slipped a bit from 2017-18. But with the sustained success Notre Dame hockey is having, just about anything short of a na- tional championship appearance is becoming a disappointment. In 2017-18, the Irish enjoyed ar- guably the best season in program history, rolling to both the Big Ten regular-season and tournament championships before reaching the national title game that ended in a heartbreaking 2-1 loss to Min- nesota-Duluth. Notre Dame was so domi- nant two seasons ago, it cruised through the first half of the Big Ten season undefeated during a stretch where it won a school- record 16 straight games. Last season, the Irish finished a respectable 23-14-3 and repeated as Big Ten Tournament champions. But Notre Dame went a more mod- est 11-11-2 in conference play during the regular season and won only five of its 12 league games at home. And as the Irish begin their 2019-20 journey with strong leadership and five 20-point scorers returning, head coach Jeff Jackson expects this group to be back in the hunt for more Big Ten hard- ware, a fifth straight trip to the NCAA Tournament and hopefully even more. Up next, Jackson said, is to win a national title, something the veteran coach has been unable to do in his 15 seasons on the Notre Dame bench, de- spite 11 NCAA Tournament appear- ances and four trips to the Frozen Four. "We've put ourselves in a position to win one and we haven't taken the next step; it's a matter of having all the right ingredients," Jackson ex- plained. "First, it starts with the cul- ture of your team, the right group of kids with the right attitude." And Jackson is confident his recipe for success is in place again this year. Notre Dame did lose its top two scorers from last season in defenseman Bobby Nardella and forward Dylan Malmquist. That's the bad news. The good news is that six of the top nine scorers are back this year, in- cluding each of the top four in goals tallied. Senior forward Cal Burke returns after finishing third on the team last season with 29 points (12 goals and 17 assists). Burke, who was named this year's team captain, said the goal for the five seniors and six juniors on the roster is to use the past to make their own mark in the present. "We don't try to think about or compare ourselves to teams, we try to think more about what we're ca- pable of," Burke said. "But I think the past success has shown us a little bit of guidance in what we're capable of and how to get there." Two other returning senior forwards, Mike O'Leary and Cam Morrison, both finished with 21 points last season. But on a team that struggled to score in 2018-19 — Notre Dame fin- ished sixth in the seven-team Big Ten with 2.80 goals per game — Jackson challenged his three vet- eran forwards to find even more firepower this year, especially on the power play. "If we get those [power-play lines] going, then I think we can be a three-goal-a-game team, at least," Jackson said. "We have to get to the point where we are a threat every time we have a power play." So while Notre Dame's scor- ing production slipped slightly last season, its typically terrific defense and goalkeeping did not. The Irish allowed only 2.27 goals per game last season, the best mark in the Big Ten. Jackson's teams are tradition- ally stingy defensively, but this is the area where his roster suffered the primary losses. L a s t y e a r ' s c a p t a i n A n - drew Peeke and leading scorer Nardella both left for profes- sional pursuits, and Jackson ex- plained that his returning group has a lesser margin for error when it comes to clearing and attacking from its own zone. Senior Tory Dello and junior Matt Hellickson will lead the group of de- fensemen trying to cover those two prominent player losses. "We cannot make weak plays with the puck in the offensive zone, we gotta get out of our zone fast," Jack- son said. "If we start going back with the puck and start getting deep in our zone, we're going to get our- selves in trouble." Fortunately, the team's last line of de- fense might be its best line of defense. Back for his senior season, All- American and 2017-18 Mike Rich- ter Award winner Cale Morris gives Notre Dame an almost impenetrable backstop in net. The numbers for Morris slipped slightly last season from 2017-18, which is hard to be- lieve because he still finished with a remarkable .930 save percentage. Morris enters this season with an upper-body injury and may miss some time for precautionary reasons, Jackson said. If Morris ends up out for any ex- Expectations Again High For Irish Hockey Cal Burke, a senior forward from Boxborough, Mass., was named team captain for the 2019-20 season. He is the top returning scorer for the Irish, with 12 goals and 17 assists last year. PHOTO COURTESY NOTRE DAME MEDIA RELATIONS

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