Matt Cashore /

Puck ready to drop for Irish hockey

Irish hockey begins at home Friday with the first of two weekend exhibition games. Jeff Jackson will go into evaluation mode while juggling roster changes and a couple injuries.

Who: Notre Dame vs. University of Guelph
When: 7:35 p.m. ET tonight
Where: Compton Family Ice Arena; South Bend, Ind. (5,022)
Radio: 99.9 FM (WHFB)
TV: (streaming)
Twitter: @ND_hockey

Hockey season has arrived with Notre Dame set for a two-game exhibition slate this weekend.

Jeff Jackson, starting his 11th season here as head coach, be on the lookout Friday in a home matchup with Guelph, a Canadian university. The Irish will finish their preseason games Sunday by traveling to Plymouth, Mich., to face the U.S. National Under-18 team.

“For us it’s about evaluation,” Jackson said. “We want to evaluate some of the guys. We want to evaluate combinations — power play combinations, line combinations, defensive pairs. It’s a good tune up for us as far as getting our game legs, hitting somebody else outside ourselves, finding out where we need to focus our practice efforts over the next few weeks.

“I’m glad we have two games, actually. We can get a good feeling for what we have so we can move forward.”

Guelph has an older roster, largely of Canadian players that have already made their way through the major junior system and, in some cases, played in the American Hockey League, a level below the NHL.

Goaltender Scott Stajcer and forward Kyle Neuber both spent time in the AHL.

“Generally playing Guelph is like playing some of our college teams because they’re gonna be older,” Jackson said. “Generally they’re older because they come out of major junior. Their freshmen are usually 20 years old. So they’re gonna be older, physically more mature. The reason we play Guelph so often is my former assistant coach coaches the Guelph team and I know he’ll keep things under control.

“The last thing I want is guys getting hurt or a fight breaking out. He’s a good coach. He’s brought his team down here three times now I think. He’s a good friend of mine.”

The USNTDP U-18 squad features high school aged players matriculating through the USA Hockey system, most of which are already committed to play college hockey in the next couple years.

Notre Dame has had 35 players come through that program, including current players Thomas DiPauli, Anders Bjork and Joe Wegwerth.

Fischer loss looms large

Jackson will be without an expected piece up front this season after incoming freshman Christian Fischer chose to sign a pro contract, foregoing his college eligibility.

Arizona selected Fischer, a forward from Wayne, Ill., with a first round pick (No. 32 overall) in June’s NHL Draft. Jackson brought Fischer into the team this summer from the USNTDP and had been counting on his physical, goal-scoring presence.

Fischer instead signed an entry-level contract with Arizona in mid-August, shortly before classes started.

“Frankly, it’s the most frustrating part of my job,” Jackson said. “Knowing who is gonna be available for us in September or October, whether it’s recruits or returning guys. I can’t enjoy my summers anymore because you just don’t know. The really unfortunate part of the business is we lost a freshman that signed a week before school started. Two freshmen and one sophomore, that’s the third time that’s happened to us in the last five years. And nobody cares. Nobody cares about that. But the thing is, it has a dramatic impact on our program. It has a dramatic impact on the kids in that locker room.

“Frankly, in all three situations — whether it was (Kyle) Palmieri, Jarred Tinordi or if it was Christian Fischer this year — I did not even get a phone call from the team that signed them. You don’t even get that respect level. You get a call from the kid. They’ll all reach out and tell you. But you don’t even get a call from the National Hockey League team.”

Fischer is in line this season to play major junior in Canada with the Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League.

Nardella, Thomas catch injuries

Jackson will also be without freshman defenseman Bobby Nardella and junior winger Ali Thomas into the regular season with undisclosed injuries.

“Both of them should be within a month, I would think,” Jackson said.

Thomas played a career-high 30 games last season with three assists and a plus-4 rating. Top Stories