Practice looked busier and less colorful.
After weeks of sorting through injuries and fielding a lineup that included a walk-on and defenseman playing forward, Notre Dame hockey coach Jeff Jackson welcomed back an almost a full complement of players to the ice. Even better, none of them wore red jerseys signaling no contact allowed.
Forwards Thomas DiPauli (shoulder), Vince Hinostroza (lower body) and Mike Voran (lower body) all appear on track to return tonight as No. 11 Notre Dame hosts Massachusetts in a Hockey East series.
“It’s looking very positive right now for DiPauli and Voran, and Hinostroza’s looking pretty good too right now,” Jackson said. “It could be all three of them but I don’t wanna get too excited.”
Center Steven Fogarty remains sidelined with a lower body injury.
Hinostorza is second on the team in scoring with 12 points and three goals despite missing six games. All together the three most likely to return have missed a combined 23 contests this season. Together they have 15 points.
Last weekend the Irish added defenseman Eric Johnson to the lineup after missing eight games with a shoulder injury.
“Practice this week has been really high tempo,” said Johnson, who played both games of the Shillelagh Tournament. “It’s been fun just to be back on the ice with everyone. You can just tell there’s a little bit different energy now that there’s a lot more guys back.”
Sorting through potential line combinations and juggling special teams units has been the first priority for Jackson and staff.
Hinostroza figured in the top power play unit earlier this season. DiPauli and Voran were also top penalty killers. Jackson thought about putting them all on the same line but is likely to spread them out across the lineup instead.
“For the time being we’ll probably try to put one of them on each line,” Jackson said. “It’s always a little bit more challenging when you’ve been out for a number of weeks. It takes a little time to get that competitive edge back. Voran’s been practicing a little bit more over the last few weeks than the other two. DiPauli has too to some degree but with red jerseys on there’s not a lot of contact.”
Defensemen engage offense
Down some top forwards over the last month the Irish defensive corps has stepped into the offense more often.
Last weekend defensemen scored five of seven goals over two games. Stephen Johns scored twice. Andy Ryan netted his first career goal. Shayne Taker and Robbie Russo also figured into the mix by capitalizing on chances.
“We encourage our guys to step in the offense,” Jackson said. “I think the positive thing is guys have always done that but now it’s good to see Robbie Russo start to be a little more. He’s always an offensive guy on the point at the blue line of the power play. I’ve tried to encourage him to be more effective on transition, jumping into the play off the rush, off the cycle and he has. He’s actually created a lot more offense that way.
“Johns has been more lugging the puck trying to make plays than without it. But it is important. I think they recognize we’re not getting as much offense from our forwards right now for whatever reason.”
Russo is now third on the team with 10 points on three goals and seven assists. Johns isn’t far behind with four goals and five assists for nine points.
Already Johns, known for defense first and foremost, has tied a career high in goals set his sophomore season. Five more points and he will surpass a career high set last year when he scored one goal and added 13 assists in 41 games.
Stepping into the play and creating offense has been more a priority for Johns this season.
“It’s just reading the rush,” he said. “You never wanna jump to make it a 2-on-2 or a 3-on-3. You just wanna jump to make it an odd-man rush like a 4-on-3 or a 4-on-2 rush. You definitely have to pick your spots but coach always gives us the green light to jump up and try to create some offense.”
Teddy Bear Toss: Take Two
Notre Dame will hold its annual Teddy Bear Toss promotion Saturday during the first intermission.
Fans are encouraged to bring teddy bears or purchase them in the lobby before puck drop then throw them onto the ice during the first intermission. They will be collected, donated to St. Joseph Regional Medical Center and distributed to children during the holiday season.