Jeff Jackson came into the Notre Dame hockey campaign with a plan to challenge one of his best returning players.
Last year Vince Hinostroza acclimated to college hockey just fine to the tune of 32 points on eight goals and 24 assists in 34 games. He managed a plus-6 rating and Hockey East named him three times in three different months.
But Jackson wanted and need more from Hinostroza as a sophomore with the departure of a big senior class that included playmaker T.J. Tynan and winger Bryan Rust, who has seen time with the Pittsburgh Penguins this season.
Over the first couple months of the season, however, Jackson didn’t necessarily see that growth.
“He didn’t have a great first half,” Jackson said. “I thought he had an OK first half. I think he had a little bit of the sophomore jinx going. With his expectations, he put a lot of pressure on himself, his personal expectations. When things weren’t going his way I don’t think he approached it the right way to where he could be what he is right now. At Christmas time it seemed like the light switch went on. Maybe the time off, he had a chance to regroup mentally.”
Hinostroza receded into the holiday break disappointed after scoring two goals and adding 12 assists in 18 games. Notre Dame managed an 8-8-2 record during that span.
Since then things have been noticeably different for the Chicago Blackhawks draft pick. Hinostroza has scored five goals and dished out 14 assists in 14 games since returning from break.
He heads into a road series at No. 2 Boston University this weekend as Notre Dame’s top scorer with 33 points and is third in Hockey East with 25 points in league games.
“I think I just came back hungry,” Hinostroza said. “I wasn’t happy with how I did the first half and how the team did. I came back and wanted to win and wanted to be successful and wanted to help the team win whatever way I could. That’s when I started having success.”
Notre Dame (13-15-4) faces long odds to make the NCAA Tournament but does have some hope in terms of chasing down a top four spot in the Hockey East standings, which would secure a first round bye in the conference playoffs and home-ice advantage the following week.
The Irish tied for fifth in the standings currently.
Hinostroza continuing to play at a torrid offensive pace is likely the best hope of snatching points on the road at Boston University this weekend. He centers a line that includes Mario Lucia’s 18 goals and freshman Anders Bjork.
Jackson put Bjork on the line two weeks ago at Maine. The trio accumulated five goals and seven assists that weekend as the Irish managed a tie and win.
“He’s the catalyst of our offense for our whole team,” Lucia said. “He’s our best player up front. If he’s having a good game, our line is having a good game and our team is having a good game. He creates a lot of space and makes a lot of plays with his vision and speed. With his ability he can take over games. If he’s going it gets me going too, I feel like.”
Hinostroza is now more eager than ever to contribute in ways other than the score sheet as the Irish play without top line center Steven Fogarty and Austin Wuthrich, a winger, thanks to injuries.
Over the last couple weeks teammates have noted Hinostroza being more vocal in practice and on the ice. Last weekend against Providence some of that increased willingness to chime in during games resulted in a 10-minute misconduct for chirping at the officials.
Finding a balance between speaking up and acting out is the next step.
“I’ve always played with a lot of passion,” Hinostroza said. “Out of that comes, you kinda do some things you regret. That’s definitely one of them. I had meetings with the coaches this week about it. It’s not gonna happen again.”
Since then Hinostroza has worked on channeling that passion into something more productive. And that doesn’t just mean scoring goals or tallying assists. But Notre Dame hopes it means more wins.
“Now that I’m scoring in practice and stuff I need to work hard,” Hinostroza said. “I need to be the hardest worker so guys will want to work hard too. I also need to be positive. I can’t be getting down, like getting penalties like that. Be vocal but don’t be yelling. It’s gotta be positive. That’s something I’ve been trying to do.”