Tough test awaits Irish hockey

Notre Dame opened its season last weekend with a series rout. Now the Irish must up their level of play as they travel to No. 4 Minnesota-Duluth. Fortunately, there’s familiarity working in Notre Dame’s favor.

Who: No. 6 Notre Dame (2-0-0) at No. 4 Minnesota-Duluth (2-0-2)
When: 8;07 p.m. tonight; 8:07 p.m. Saturday
Where: Amsoil Arena; Duluth, Minn. (6,600)
Radio: 94.3 FM (WZOC)
TV: Fox College Sports (Friday); My9 (local - Saturday)
Twitter: @ND_hockey

All of a sudden Notre Dame must raise its level of play.

Arizona State, a program in its first full season at the Division I level, offered some competition last week by pushing Game 2 of that series into the third period before a 4-2 defeat. But overall the Irish dominated with a 13-4 scoring edge.

Traveling to No. 4 Minnesota-Duluth for a two-game series this week offers a significant upgrade in opponent. That has Notre Dame’s attention.

“I am concerned about that a little bit,” said head coach Jeff Jackson. “I remember going into Penn State last year and they came off beating, I think, Bentley really bad for two games. We kinda swarmed them early and beat them pretty good the first night. The second night they beat us. We’re gonna have to be ready for the speed of the game. It’s gonna be higher than what we’ve played.”

Notre Dame (2-0-0), up to No. 6 in the latest USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll, should have a pretty good idea what to expect.

Duluth has appeared on the schedule at least once in every season since 2010-11. The Irish are 3-5-2 in those meetings, including a pair of home ties last year. They’re 2-2-0 in the previous two series Duluth has hosted.

“I think it’ll be pretty similar to the past,” said defenseman Jordan Gross. “They have pretty high end talent up front and on the back end. They’re fast. Last year they were really fast. I’m expecting them to be fast again and I’m expecting them to be pretty physical. They’ve got a lot of Northern Minnesota guys and Canadians up there.”

Talent level won’t be the only thing that gives Jackson pause as the Irish travel north.

Notre Dame has just two seniors on this year’s team in forward Ben Ostlie and reserve goaltender Chad Katunar. Eight freshmen, most of which play, will be experiencing their first true college road environment.

Playing at top speed against a Top 10 opponent is one thing. Doing so in a rowdy environment adds another element.

“My first one was at Minnesota,” said goalie Cal Petersen, a junior. “That was a little bit of an eye opener. Part of it just comes with experience. Just have to remember it’s another hockey game. It might be a couple more people in the stands than you’re used to but at the end of the day you still have to do your job that you’ve been practicing. You’re still the same player.”

Notre Dame in the NHL

Seven former Notre Dame players opened the season on NHL rosters this week.

Defenseman Ian Cole and winger Bryan Rust return to the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins. Thomas DiPauli is starting the season on Pittsburgh’s injured reserve list after suffering an injury during training camp. He’ll like head to the AHL when healthy.

Others on opening night rosters include Vinnie Hinostroza (Chicago), Stephen Johns (Dallas), Anders Lee (New York Islanders), Kyle Palmieri (New Jersey) and Riley Sheahan (Detroit).

“I think there’s more guys now that have a chance to play and more guys on this team that’ll be in the league in a few years,” Jackson said. “It’s part of what you do here. You want them to get their degree first and foremost and if they have a chance to play in the National Hockey League with a Notre Dame degree it’s a pretty good deal.”

In terms of current players, Notre Dame boasts eight players already selected in the NHL Draft.

Buffalo selected center Connor Hurley and Petersen in 2013. Forwards Anders Bjork (Boston), Jake Evans (Montreal) and Joe Wegwerth (Florida) all went in the 2014 draft. Chicago selected defenseman Dennis Gilbert in 2015 while forward Cam Morrison (Colorado) and defenseman Andrew Peeke (Columbus) were drafted this past spring.

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