When the regular summer session begins at Notre Dame later this month the Notre Dame hockey team will officially turn over its roster.
Head coach Jeff Jackson plans to welcome a group of five forwards and two defensemen to a returning roster that went 18-19-5 last season while missing the NCAA tournament after consecutive appearances the previous two years.
Their task will be to help replace departed leading scorers Vince Hinostroza (44 points) and Robbie Russo (41 points). Hinostroza chose to forego his final two years of eligibility to sign with the Chicago Blackhawks while Russo, a defenseman, wrapped up his college career.
Trying to do so will be aided by the return of leading goal scorer Mario Lucia for his senior season. Lucia, a second round pick of the Minnesota Wild in 2011, could’ve signed as well.
“(Lucia) made good strides this year being stronger over the puck and being a little grittier,” Jackson said. “He needs to continue to do those things and I think it’s only going to help him be better offensively. He also really loves Notre Dame and wants to be a senior, wants to enjoy his senior year. That’s the way all kids should look at it. If they’re a slam dunk to make it to the National Hockey League, I get it.
“But if they’re likely gonna toil in the American League for three or four years, why not stay and enjoy your senior year and have a lot of fun and at the same time try to work on parts of your game that are gonna help you get to where you wanna be?”
Lucia scored 21 goals last season.
Odds are at least a couple of the freshmen will help in that department, most notably touted winger Christian Fischer and center Dylan Malmquist. They’ll be joined by Florida Panthers prospect Joe Wegwerth, Jack Jenkins and Andrew Oglevie as first year forwards.
Fischer, a product of the U.S. National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, Mich., is expected to go in the early rounds of this month’s NHL Draft. Malmquist is the reigning Minnesota Associated Press Player of the Year.
Malmquist recorded 28 goals and 44 assists in 28 games last season to become the all-time leading scorer at Edina High, the same program that produced former Irish star Anders Lee.
He’ll make the somewhat unusual step of coming to Notre Dame straight from high school rather than spending at least a season at the major junior level in the United States Hockey League.
Jackson consulted Minnesota coach Don Lucia and Connecticut coach Mike Cavanaugh, both of whom coached true freshmen from high school last season, before choosing to bring Malmquist in without a year of seasoning elsewhere.
“Good players are good players regardless of what level they play,” Jackson said. “The big thing with him is he’s gonna go through some growing pains. He’s gonna have to learn how to play without the puck. I think he’s a responsible player and he’s a dynamic offensive player. When you lose a guy like Hinostroza you’ve gotta have a little bit more of that in your lineup. He’s a great skater. He’s not the tallest guy but he’s a pretty thick kid.
“Physically, a good summer here with (strength and conditioning coach) Tony Rolinski will make him better prepared for the challenges of college hockey. The biggest adjustment for kids like that right out of high school is he’s not gonna have the same type of success he had in high school. Finding a way to handle that mentally and emotionally is always the biggest challenge for kids like that.”
Malmquist will likely slot in at center, which could turn out to be one of the most intriguing positions heading into fall camp.
Hinostroza spent two years centering Lucia, a partnership that resulted in many goals for the latter whether it be at even strength or on the power play. Jackson is already tinkering with thoughts on who will center Lucia with Hinostroza gone to the professional ranks.
“We’ve got a number of younger guys that can all play center,” Jackson said. “I think Jake Evans might be a candidate to move to center. Anders Bjork could be a candidate to move to center. Plus we’ve got Steven Fogarty and Connor Hurley. Both are talented players. I keep on hoping Fogarty is gonna have a breakout year. Maybe he’s a guy that goes with Mario. It’s hard for me to say at this point.”
Jackson will also be tinkering with the power play units.
Hinostroza was one of the primary playmakers but Russo took charge of running point on the top power play unit last season. His puck moving skills and ability to find shooting lanes through traffic was a bright spot even with goals difficult to find early in the season.
Bobby Nardella is a candidate to fill those shoes. He registered 42 points (10 goals, 32 assists) in 56 games for the Tri-City Storm last season. Those numbers made him the third-best scoring defenseman in the USHL.
He’ll be joined by Dennis Gilbert, who played for the Chicago Steel in the USHL last season and is eligible for this month’s NHL Draft, as the incoming freshman defensemen.
“Jordan Gross would be a candidate for that to elevate his game,” Jackson said. “But Bobby Nardella is going to be as impactful offensively as any defenseman we’ve had here. If that happens as a freshman, I can’t tell you that. I’m sure he’s going to contribute offensively next year. He’s got a chance to be a really gifted offensive defenseman in college hockey. He’s got great vision. He’s got great instincts. He sees the ice extremely well. The biggest thing is he’s gotta be able to defend at his size at this level. That’ll be his biggest challenge coming in. He’s certainly got that impact ability, like Russo. Maybe even more so by the time he’s a junior and senior.