A $50 million hockey fcility that houses over 5,000 fans. Four locker rooms. A four-sided scoreboard. Premium clubs seats. These are all investments aimed at producing a championship hockey program.
Compton Family Ice Arena, which opened in 2011, is an elite facility, yet the Irish haven’t quite leapt to elite status as a program.
The Irish haven’t won a game in the NCAA Tournament since the 2010-11 season, the inaugural season of Compton when the team reached the Frozen Four before losing 4-3 to Minnesota-Duluth. They’ve won games in the NCAA postseason in just two seasons since 2007-08. Clearly, this isn’t what the Compton family, who also own the NHL’s San Jose Sharks, envisioned when it committed to take the program’s facilities to the next level.
There are many positive aspects related to this Notre Dame program’s uptick. The switch to Hockey East will almost certainly continue to impact recruiting positively along with the elite arena. Boston College, Boston University and North Dakota have dominated the recruiting board lately. In fact, seven of the top ten national recruits according to College Hockey News chose one of the three universities. Notre Dame failed to secure commitments from any of those 2014 top ten players. If Notre Dame can begin to lead the pack in Hockey East, that could change.
The Irish transitioned to the new conference last season from the CHCA just as other Notre Dame athletic programs switched to the ACC. Hockey East is to hockey as the SEC is to football. Four of the last seven champions have hailed from the most recognizable conference in college hockey. Competing in a conference that features traditional hockey powers Boston College, Boston University and UMass will only increase Notre Dame’s presence and buzz among those closely associated with the sport.
Notre Dame also has a veteran head coach in Jeff Jackson, who is now in his tenth season. In his tenure, Notre Dame reached six tournaments and won three CHCA Mason Cups. The Irish have also reached the Frozen Four twice under Jackson. He guided the Irish to the Hockey East Semifinals last season after an upset over Boston College and certainly has impressive credentials with nearly 200 wins.
Sports can be brutal. Athletics play by the rules of natural selection. Only the strongest survive in the fight to gain national superiority. The past seemingly never factors into fans’ and recruits’ viewpoints. It’s all about what you’ve done lately. These next few years will be pivotal if the Irish seek to prevent a downward trajectory.
It has now been four years since Notre Dame’s last Frozen Four appearance. Irish hockey is attempting to become a marquee sport in the minds of the Notre Dame community, but with the exception of football, which will always be passionately followed, fans can grow weary of a team that comes up just short. Losing in key games and key moments creates passivity. The Irish certainly don’t want to develop the reputation of a program that can’t take the next step. In order to keep the passion alive in the long run, the Irish must become a more balanced team.
In the last three years, Notre Dame hasn’t finished above .500 on the road. The Irish are a combined 19-24-7 in off campus games over that time span. Traveling is never easy, but flipping tie games into winning decisions would certainly put the Irish in a better position to take charge of the hockey landscape.
The Irish will have to stretch to replace graduated center T.J. Tynan, who had over 50 goals and 100 assists in his career. They’ve struggled to fill the void left by Anders Lee’s departure after a three-year career that ended in 2012-13. Lee now plays for the New York Islanders and scored 24 goals in his freshman season at Notre Dame. Goalie Steven Summerhays, who was Notre Dame’s 2014 team MVP, is also gone.
Highly regarded freshmen recruits Connor Hurley and Cal Peterson must show their talents at a young age. Returning standouts Vince Hinostroza and Mario Lucia must do even more than before.
The Irish will experience first hand in year two of Hockey East that nothing worthwhile comes easily. If they can rise above the rest at the end of the season, climbing that steep mountain will almost certainly be worth the effort.
The momentum that the Compton Family Ice Arena and moving to Hockey East generated won’t last forever.