Who: Notre Dame (5-3-4) vs. No. 8 Harvard (4-1-1)
When: 7:35 p.m. tonight
Where: Compton Family Ice Arena; South Bend, Ind. (5,022)
Radio: 99.9 FM (WHFB)
Jeff Jackson doesn’t give his team a break in the Shillelagh Tournament, the four-team event Notre Dame hockey annually organizes.
RPI, Western Michigan and No. 8 Harvard are headed to South Bend this weekend for the sixth edition of this non-conference event. Notre Dame has hosted on campus since opening the Compton Family Ice Arena in 2013.
“Western Michigan agreed to be part of it for three years,” Jackson said. “This is the last year of that. Then we try to get different teams that maybe our fans haven’t seen a lot of. Certainly, we’re grateful to have Harvard this year. We haven’t played Harvard since I’ve been here. Obviously, they’re a great opponent. It’s gonna be a much more challenging game maybe than the last couple years. Frankly, I think that’s better for us. It gets us energized to play a nationally ranked opponent.
“RPI’s been a good partner for us. We have a good working relationship with (head coach) Seth Appert. He’s been here a couple times in the non-conference. We’ve been out to RPI as well. We have a good rapport with them.”
Western Michigan (4-6-1), an old foe from the Central Collegiate Hockey Association, makes its third straight appearance and is defending last year’s title. RPI (7-4-2) and Harvard will be participating for the first time.
Past winners include Minnesota State (2011) and Northeastern (2013).
Notre Dame won the first Shillelagh Tournament in 2009 and repeated in 2010, with those events held at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates, Ill. The Irish haven’t taken the title since. Jackson wants to change that.
“We haven’t had a lot of success in our own tournament,” Jackson said. “I’m not sure if it’s too much Thanksgiving turkey or it’s families being in town because it’s a holiday weekend. It’s just a change in routine because there’s no school. I’m hoping this year we’re better prepared to maybe win our tournament. We’ve gotta worry about Friday night.”
Harvard (4-1-1) poses a difficult test in tonight’s opener with forward Jimmy Vesey, who turned down the chance to sign a professional contract to return for his senior season. He has five goals and six assists in six games, making him second in the nation with a 1.83 points per game.
Goaltender Merrick Madsen has allowed just two goals in three games, all victories, with .976 save percentage.
Notre Dame is no stranger to a goalie running hot after facing UMass-Lowell’s Kevin Boyle last weekend. Boyle is third in the country with a 1.29 goals-against average. The Irish scored three times on Boyle in leaving Lowell with a 2-2 tie and 3-1 loss.
“I thought we matched up against them better than we have,” Jackson said. “I thought Friday night we had a serious chance to win that game. I thought we played better as the game progressed even though we fell down by two goals, came back and tied it. I thought we had the better opportunities to score in the third period and overtime. I thought we made progress as the game went on.
“Saturday I thought we played pretty well. Our special teams kinda let us down that night, which hasn’t been a big issue this year. But for the first time, we could’ve certainly had a tie out of that game if our power play scored.”
Shillelagh Tournament play begins at 4:05 p.m. today when Western Michigan and RPI face off. Notre Dame plays Harvard at 7:35 p.m. in the nightcap.
Games will begin at the same times on Saturday with Notre Dame again playing the late session.