Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct. 30, 2017

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

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8 OCT. 30, 2017 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED UNDER THE DOME The Notre Dame hockey team faced an early season test Oct. 13-14 when it hosted defending national champion Denver, which knocked the Irish out of the Frozen Four last season. The Irish rallied to tie both games in the third period after falling behind, but was unable to secure a victory. The first matchup ended in a 2-2 tie before the Irish fell 4-2 the following day. Head coach Jeff Jackson and his team will round out non-conference play in October before heading into its first season as a member of the Big Ten. Ju- nior defenseman Bobby Nardella talked with Blue & Gold Illustrated about the team's start to the season. BGI: What do you like about what you've seen so far from this team? Nardella: "The biggest thing that we've shown is that we're really resilient, especially against Den- ver. Both games we came back. We were able to tie it up both times late in the game. I think that's stood out the most. "We're a fast team, and we're a skilled team. If we execute our systems and execute the game plan, then we have a really good chance of reach- ing our full potential." BGI: Has there been anything that's surprised you about the team? Nardella: "Not really too much. The freshmen have done a good job coming in and filling their roles. Each one of them is good at differ- ent things, and they've done a good job of bringing that here. "It hasn't been too differ- ent. We've only played a few games, and I think there will be a lot more that comes up." BGI: What are some areas you feel the team may need to clean up leading into Big Ten play in November? Nardella: "Executing our defensive zone, burying our scoring chances and at the same time stopping their scor- ing chances in front of our net — that's going to be really important going into the Big Ten. "Establishing a forecheck in the offensive zone is going to be really important, too." BGI: What are the benefits of playing a high- caliber team like Denver early in the season? Nardella: "Coming off a national championship, they didn't lose that much. It was a good measuring stick for us. I think it showed we can play with the top teams in the country and we can be a top contender in the coun- try if we execute our systems and our game plans. "I thought even with the results, we played some re- ally good hockey." BGI: With your play specifi- cally, what do you feel you can do in order to take your game to the next level and continue helping the team? Nardella: "I just have to bear down defensively more. The better part of my game is my offensive side, but I'm a defenseman and I have to defend first before I can jump into play and try to create offensively. "Getting stronger and getting faster will be really important for me in bearing down defensively. I'm really focusing on developing in that area." — Corey Bodden Five Questions With … MEN'S ICE HOCKEY JUNIOR DEFENSEMAN BOBBY NARDELLA Landing A Defensive End Is The Top Need By Bryan Driskell Notre Dame has done an excellent job putting its 2018 class together, and it has already filled the quarterback, running back and linebacker positions. The Irish are also in good shape to finish off the tight end, offensive line and safety classes. Cornerback and defensive end remain the top priori- ties, and after not signing a single cornerback in 2017 the angst about recruiting that position is understandable. Notre Dame must land at least one cornerback this cycle. Defensive end, however, is the biggest need in this class. The Irish signed two ends a season ago when they landed Jonathon MacCollister and Kofi Wardlow, but both are long-term projects. Notre Dame's four- man class from 2016 consisted of Daelin Hayes, Julian Okwara, Khalid Kareem and Adetokunbo Ogundeji. Hayes is Notre Dame's starting end and both Okwara and Kareem are contributors off the bench. That four-man group will be juniors when the current class shows up on campus. Notre Dame absolutely needs to land a potential impact pass rusher in this haul that can fill the void left when the 2016 class leaves. It was a major need heading into this recruiting cycle, and thus far the Irish have struggled to get much traction at the position. Notre Dame has landed Jersey City (N.J.) St. Peter's Prep end Justin Ademilola, but he is more of a power player. A dynamic pass rusher would have a major impact on the class. Practically speaking, when a team's ends are impact play- ers there is less of a need to have cornerbacks that can cover for long periods. Landing A Cornerback Is Priority One By Corey Bodden Cornerback recruiting wasn't much of a discussion for the Irish until the final few weeks of the 2017 cycle leading into National Signing Day. Notre Dame held two four-star commitments from La Mi- rada (Calif.) High product Elijah Hicks and Mansfield (Texas) High athlete Paulson Adebo in early January, before Adebo decommitted and headed to Stanford while Hicks opted to enroll early at California. Both players departed from the class in back-to-back days, leaving the Irish with zero commitments at the position with less than a month until National Signing Day. The staff scrambled, but was unable to secure any late additions. With no freshmen entering Todd Lyght's cornerback room, the Irish were left with five scholarship players at the position after Nick Coleman moved to safety. Notre Dame is an injury or two away from a potential problem with depth at the position. The good news is all five players might return next season: Julian Love, Nick Watkins, Donte Vaughn, Shaun Crawford and Troy Pride Jr. Watkins will be entering his potential fifth season of eligibility in 2018, while the other four will have two years remaining. The numbers at the position make 2018 a pivotal year for the staff at cornerback. The Irish can't afford to go back-to- back years without adding starting-caliber talent at the position. Notre Dame needs to add at least one player it feels can be a starter at cornerback to provide injury insurance and allow the staff to develop new players to follow behind what is a solid group. Point ✦ Counterpoint: WHICH AREA OF FOOTBALL RECRUITING IS MOST CRUCIAL FOR NOTRE DAME RIGHT NOW? Nardella scored four points (one goal and three assists) in Notre Dame's first two series of the season against Alabama Huntsville and Denver. PHOTO COURTESY FIGHTING IRISH MEDIA Landing a pass-rushing defensive end to complement powerful commit Justin Ademilola would fill a critical need in the 2018 recruiting class. PHOTO COURTESY RIVALS.COM

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