Blue and Gold Illustrated

Nov. 27, 2020

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

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50 NOV. 27, 2020 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED ND SPORTS BY TODD D. BURLAGE V eteran Notre Dame hockey head coach Jeff Jackson freely admits that the only certainty for a 2020-21 season that opened last weekend against Wisconsin will be ex- pecting the unexpected. From coronavirus con- cerns, to no fans in the stands for the time being, to no pre- conference tune-up games, Jackson said that through it all he remains thankful to fi- nally be able to lace up the skates and get the season go- ing. He'll deal with the finer coaching points on the fly. "It could be entertaining, let's put it that way," said Jackson, admitting that immediately jumping into Big Ten play without the usual six or seven pre-conference games brings even more unknowns. "I'm sure there are going to be a lot of mis- takes made and it will probably take a little time to acclimate to playing serious hockey again." Typically, Jackson takes about six weeks to train his team before the season opener. In fact, this time last year, Notre Dame was off to a spar- kling 8-1-2 start before losing six straight on its way to a disappointing 15-15-7 record that kept it out of the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2015. This year, the Irish practiced for about three months before opening their season. In the Big Ten preseason poll re- leased Nov. 9, the Irish were picked by the league's head coaches to finish tied for third. Jackson repeatedly said this preseason that in order to get back to the NCAA Tournament and ultimately make a third appearance in the Frozen Four in four seasons, his team's goal scor- ing needs to improve. Notre Dame averaged 2.5 goals per game last season, the second fewest among the seven conference teams, and its lowest mark in three seasons as a Big Ten member. "We have to try to get back to the basics of what we do and what we do well," Jackson said of reaching the im- portant scoring average of 3.0 goals per game. "I'm hoping that the maturity of this team will help that happen." But, Jackson warned, maturity only becomes an advantage if utilized. Last season, his youthful Irish struggled defensively and surrendered multiple late-game leads, especially during a two-month stretch between late No- vember and late January when it won only two of 15 games. Notre Dame allowed 38 third-pe- riod goals last season, which was 12 more than the 26 it gave up in the first period and six more than the 32 it allowed in the second period. "One of the deficien- cies in our team last year was not being ex- tremely good in those adverse situations late in games," Jackson ex- plained. "We have to show growth this year." Another primary but unexpected challenge Jackson out- lined for both his players and coaches will be navigating the great unknown. Notre Dame football has proven that coronavirus outbreaks can and likely will hit Jackson's team and temporar- ily sideline players during the season. "We are going to be dealing with stuff all year long, more than likely," Jackson said. "Whether it's the manip- ulation of your lineup based on who is healthy and who's not, I think whoever handles that adversity the best is go- ing to have an advantage." Notre Dame and the Big Ten continue to take gradual steps and utilize aggressive virus detection and protec- tion protocols in order to smoothly navigate this sea- son. Irish hockey players and coaches are tested daily for coronavirus, and at the time of print, only the 10 games before winter break (Nov. 13- Dec. 20) were scheduled. The 18 remaining games played after the New Year were not yet released. "The teams that manage the cra- ziness that we may end up dealing with will be the teams that have the most success," Jackson said. ✦ Junior defenseman Spencer Stastney (No. 24), a preseason second-team All- Big Ten selection, and the Fighting Irish were picked to finish tied for third in the league's preseason poll. PHOTO COURTESY NOTRE DAME ATHLETICS Irish Hockey Begins Its Uncertain Season Irish Roundup MEN'S SOCCER (4-3 OVERALL, 3-2 ACC) The Fighting Irish closed out their regular- season fall slate by defeating Louisville 4-1 at home Nov. 6 … Notre Dame secured the No. 3 seed in the ACC North Region and will face North Carolina, the No. 2 seed in the ACC South Region, in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament Nov. 15 in Chapel Hill, N.C. WOMEN'S SOCCER (4-5 OVERALL, 4-4 ACC) No. 12-ranked and No. 8-seeded Notre Dame was edged 2-0 by No. 1-seeded Florida State in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tourna- ment Nov. 10 in Cary, N.C. … The Irish will resume play in the spring, when the NCAA Championship will be held. SWIMMING & DIVING Both the men's and women's squads took part in a virtual meet versus West Virginia Nov. 6-7 … The two schools executed the same events at their home facilities, and times were ranked after the session concluded to deter- mine rankings and winners … Notre Dame took first in 32 of the 34 events … The Fighting Irish men were ranked No. 21 in the College Swimming & Diving Coaches Association of America preseason poll, while the women checked in at No. 23. — Steve Downey 2020-21 BIG TEN PRESEASON POLL Rk. School 1. Minnesota 2. Michigan 3t. Notre Dame Ohio State 5. Wisconsin 6. Michigan State 7. Penn State

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