Louder Than Words
Notre Dame Freshmen Making an Impact on the Ice
by Avash Kalra/Staff Writer
With a combined 40 goals scored in 19 games so far this season, the most impressive freshman class in the CCHA may also be its quietest.
Notre Dame head coach Jeff Jackson asks that his freshmen avoid speaking to the media, encouraging them to instead remain focused on their dual responsibilities as NCAA student-athletes.
Nevertheless, while maintaining their silence all season long, the dozen freshmen featured on the 2010-11 edition of the Fighting Irish have managed to make plenty of noise anyway.
Rookie T.J. Tynan leads Notre Dame in scoring, with 11 goals and 12 assists, and has been complemented offensively by Anders Lee, the New York Islanders draft pick who has tallied 10 goals of his own.
Admitted Jackson, "We expected [the freshmen] to contribute, but maybe not to the degree to which they have."
In his 11 years as a Division I head coach, the two-time national championship winner has reached the 30-win plateau seven times. His .696 winning percentage entering the 2010-11 season trailed only three coaches in college hockey history.
But the question of how Jackson and his squad would respond — to a sub-par 13-win season and to the graduation of seven seniors — loomed as this season began. Did that make Jackson nervous at all?
Not surprisingly, not at all.
"It was more of an excitement from our coaching staff's perspective," Jackson said. "We did underachieve last year. But with so many new faces, it was like a blank slate. It allowed us to rebuild the culture, the attitude. If it weren't for the seniors, who have done a great job in the leadership role, it may have been more challenging."
With leadership coming from the likes of senior forwards Ryan Guentzel and Calle Ridderwall — who, as a freshman himself, scored a Frozen Four overtime goal to send Notre Dame into its first national title game — the Irish rookie class has been able to mature and to shine.
Tynan, third in the nation in freshman scoring, was named the national rookie of the month in November by the Hockey Commissioners' Association. The Orland Park, Ill., native amassed 12 points in eight games, and supplemented his even-strength scoring with two power-play goals and two shorthanded markers as well.
On the season, Tynan has seven multi-point games, including Notre Dame's road wins at Miami and Michigan.
"He is an extremely smart player," said Jackson of his young centerman. "He knows how to find open people. He knows how to get open. Those are God-given skills that he has that allow him to be creative and make plays. Probably the thing that makes him most effective is that he competes so hard. He's not afraid to get to the dirty areas in front of the net."
Lee, meanwhile, creates a stark contrast with the 5-foot-8 Tynan. At 6-foot-3, Lee has been used on the right wing on Tynan's line, and the two have started to develop an on-ice chemistry that may worry CCHA opponents for years to come.
"T.J. is a smart, skilled player, more of a playmaker," says Jackson. "He's able to find people in open ice. Anders is a big power forward who has goal scoring instincts. He's big and strong, and his athleticism allows him to power his way through."
Of course, Tynan and Lee comprise just two of the 12 freshmen on the roster. Of the dozen, Jackson notes that at least nine or 10 play every night.
Contributing regularly have been forwards Mike Voran (11 points), Jeff Costello (5 goals), David Gerths (6 goals), and Bryan Rust (3 goals), as well as rookie defensemen Kevin Lind and Shayne Taker, each of whom has 5 assists from the blueline.
"I think they've done well," said Jackson. "They don't know any different. They just go out and play, and they play hard."
The result? A first half to the season that ends with the Irish sitting in first place atop the CCHA standings.
"I'm hopeful we can maintain our level of enthusiasm in the way we're playing the game," said Jackson. "We'll hopefully improve as far as our level of consistency. The potential for us to be better certainly exists.
"[Our start] is a credit to the kids for coming in and grabbing a hold of the opportunity because there was plenty of opportunity available. Hopefully they go into the second half as 'half-sophomores.'"
If Tynan, Lee, and company do just that — and continue to exceed expectations — the media requests for interviews will certainly keep coming. Perhaps, though, there's no need for them to say anything at all.
After all, in South Bend right now, silence is golden.