Thomas DiPauli doesn't much like to talk about last season.
It’s no surprise given the junior forward spent most of sophomore year in and out of the Notre Dame lineup, playing just 26 games thanks to multiple maladies. DiPauli managed three goals and five points total while battling a balky shoulder.
Missing so many games and contributing so little on the score sheet wasn’t exactly what DiPauli had planed for his second season of college hockey.
“Obviously, last year I injured my shoulder and then I came back,” DiPauli said. “You can’t really hunt pucks down and go 100 percent because you're a little cautious. You don’t want the same thing to happen again. Last year was definitely a battle for me. But, yeah. I don’t even wanna talk about that too much.”
DiPauli has managed to keep the injury bug away this season and return to his spot as one of the most important Irish players.
He’s played in 25 of 26 games this season and is fourth on the team with 19 points total. His 14 assists are tied with Jordan Gross and Robbie Russo, trailing only team leader Vince Hinostroza (18). Five goals so far matches his total from freshman year.
But it’s the work DiPauli is willing to do in other areas, many of which don’t show up in the box score, which brings the most value to head coach Jeff Jackson.
DiPauli is second on the team among forwards in blocking shots with 22 — captain Steven Fogarty has 24 — and first in the eyes of many in terms of retrieving pucks and doing dirty work along the walls.
“His quickness and his speed are a part of that and his will is a part of it too,” Jackson said. “You know if you’re winning a 50-50 puck the other 50 is going for it too. It’s the physical aspect of it. It’s about quickness and anticipation too but when the puck goes off the goalie or off a shin pad in the corner, if you get to the puck first you’re gonna potentially be able to make a play to retain possession. He does that better than anybody.”
DiPauli credits a rugged mental approach to the game, willingness to get in front of pucks or bodies and hockey instinct for his ability to do the things others might not be so willing to do. It’s something he’s developed over time.
“I think it’s always been part of my game for the most part,” DiPauli said. “Obviously, when you’re growing up and you’re 12, 13, 14 years old you’re not really worried about that stuff yet. You’re trying to more have fun than worry about puck possession stuff. But it’s definitely developed a little more and more every year — being a gritty player, being in people’s faces, getting pucks back on the power play and stuff like that. I kinda make a name for myself in that way.”
Even last season through injuries DiPauli tried not to shy away from physical content and high traffic areas.
But the difference this year in being healthy isn’t just blocking more shots. DiPauli is a more potent and reliable offensive threat, something Jackson needs while pairing the junior with freshman center Connor Hurley and winger Anders Bjork.
Healthy DiPauli means better Irish squad.
“That’s a big part of it,” Jackson said. “He might’ve done well in the second half last year had he stayed healthy. It’s hard to predict. He’s a catalyst. He stirs the drink. He’s fast, he’s tenacious. He’s a guy that can help us in different ways that go unrecognized sometimes.”
Russo suspended two games
Hockey East suspended Notre Dame defenseman Robbie Russo two games after a “slashing incident” against Northeastern last weekend. The league announced Russo’s suspension Thursday.
“Hockey east has suspended Notre Dame senior defenseman Robbie Russo for two games stemming from a slashing incidentat 19:44 of the third period at Northeastern Saturday, Jan. 24,” it said in a statement. “He will miss this weekend’s series against New Hampshire at the Compton Family Ice Arena and will be eligible to return to action Friday, Feb. 6 at Maine.”
Notre Dame will lose its top scorer in Russo, who has 25 total points this season in 26 games.
New Hampshire comes to town
Notre Dame (10-13-3, 5-4-3 Hockey East) welcomes New Hampshire to the Compton Family Ice Arena this weekend for a two-game league series.
Both teams are coming off consecutive losses — New Hampshire suffered a sweep at the hands of Maine last weekend and Notre Dame did the same against Northeastern in a road series. New Hampshire is 8-14-2 overall and 3-8-1 in conference play.
“I know that they’ve got some similarities to us,” Jackson said. “I think they’ve got three or four freshman defensemen. They’ve got a young goaltender. I think they lost their veteran goalie at the beginning of the year. There’s some similarities between them and us. They’re always a good program, always well coached. They’re gonna be challenging.”
Notre Dame faces consecutive teams with sub-.500 records in New Hampshire and Maine before running a gauntlet to end the season. Its final three series are against No. 11 Providence (home), No. 2 Boston University (away) and No. 15 Boston College (home).
All are in the top four of the Hockey East standings at the moment.
“I met with our leadership group and the most important thing is we need to try and come up with points every weekend,” Jackson said. “The other part of that, we wanna put ourselves in the best position in the conference standings so we can go into the playoffs on a positive note. It’s gonna be tough when you finish off your season with Providence, Boston University and Boston College.
“It’s gonna be tough, but at least four of those games are at home. We have to take care of the games here in our building as much as possible.”
Cook back in action
Freshman center Dawson Cook has returned to practice after missing both games last weekend while recovering from a concussion.
“He’s back,” Jackson said. “He’s fine.”
DiPauli ‘stirs the drink’
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