Two years ago this month the Notre Dame hockey program announced its eventual move to Hockey East with the Central Collegiate Hockey Association facing extinction.
Tomorrow the Irish will plunge into their new conference with a road series against Vermont, marking the official start of a new era.
Mostly, it will be another road series. But there will also be some weirdness about it all.
"It's gonna take some getting used to I'm sure," said head coach Jeff Jackson. "One of our support staff said (Wednesday) it's like we're playing another non-conference series. As time goes on that'll change. When you're accustomed to playing Lake Superior (State) and Bowling Green and Michigan all these years and then all the sudden you're playing Vermont it is a little different. But we're excited about it."
Heading off to face Vermont (1-1-1) will bring more challenges for No. 2 Notre Dame (5-1-0) than simply a different opponent.
These programs have met just twice in their histories and haven't in more than a decade. No Irish player has played at Gutterson Fieldhouse at the college level. On top of those things, Vermont is celebrating 50 years as a program with events throughout the weekend.
All things considered, an already foreign environment should be cranked up to another level.
"We haven't really talked about it very much but I think all the guys know that's going on Saturday," said defenseman Robbie Russo. "I think it's pretty cool. I've heard they've got an old barn there, so it should be pretty crazy. Playing in environments like that, I don't know. It's a lot better. It's really exciting. Everybody will be up for the game, so it should be pretty cool."
Diving into league play will also bring some changes to the format, namely some specifics in terms of how the standings are settled.
Wins in Hockey East are worth two points, just like the professional ranks. CCHA victories had been with three points and included the possibility of a shootout if the game remained tied after overtime.
Ties in Hockey East will result in one point for each team. There are no shootouts for the extra point as there were in the CCHA, much to the delight of Jackson.
"It's one of the reasons we went to that league," Jackson joked.
Notre Dame will be without two regular contributors against Vermont after injuries suffered in the split with Minnesota-Duluth last weekend.
Forward Thomas DiPauli (upper body) and defenseman Eric Johnson (upper body) are both out for "a few weeks," Jackson said. DiPauli went out after being checked in the first game of the Duluth series. Johnson exited in the second period of the finale.
Duluth forward Tony Cameranesi received a five-minute major for boarding as a result the hit on Johnson.
"He'll end up missing probably several weeks," Jackson said. "The guy that boarded him or checked him from behind didn't miss anything other than five minutes."
DiPauli has one goal this season and a plus-two rating. Johnson has played in all six games this season on defense with one assist. Forward Garrett Peterson is likely to see more time in the absence of DiPauli. Freshman defensemen Justin Wade and Ben Ostlie will get more into the mix along with Andy Ryan, who has played in four games so far.
Hinostroza nabs league honor
Hockey East on Wednesday named Irish forward Vince Hinostroza its rookie of the month for October.
Hinostroza leads the team with eight points and is tied for a team high with three goals. Sam Herr and Jeff Costello have also scored that many. The Bartlett, Ill., native also has a plus-three rating and is tied for second on the team with 17 shots.
He has scored in all but one game so far this season.
"We had Vinnie play an extra year of junior hockey just for this reason," Jackson said. "To make sure he was strong enough to make an impact as a freshman. We knew he had the talent. He could've come in last year but I would've been a little concerned about his body because he's not the biggest cat in the world. He competes really hard and he's got great hockey instincts. Just at his size I worried that he would've gotten hurt a year ago.
"Hopefully he doesn't this year. But even so, the extra year certainly helped him, gave him a little bit more offensive confidence and he's shown the signs of that."