After two long years of planning, No. 2 Notre Dame will finally wade in the soon-to-be-charted Hockey East waters this weekend with a pair of games at Vermont, its first test in the new conference. They’ll do so without a fully healthy lineup.
Sophomore Thomas DiPauli will miss this weekend's games in Vermont with an upper body injury.
Sophomore wing Thomas DiPauli and junior defenseman Eric Johnson are both expected to miss several weeks with upper body injuries sustained during the team’s trip to Duluth, Minn., last week. DiPauli helped spark linemate Vinnie Hinostroza to a Hockey East rookie of the month award in October. Johnson’s absence on the blue will force the Irish to put two rookies into the defensive rotation.
Johnson played in 28 games last season and developed into a steady presence in the defensive zone. Without him, sophomore Andy Ryan and freshmen Ben Ostlie and Justin Wade will be forced into action. Notre Dame will likely have to shake up their defensive pairings to avoid putting two of those three rookies out on the ice together.
“That’s a pretty big loss,” said junior Robbie Russo. “We have eight strong [defensemen]. I think we should be fine there. Everyone can move the puck and is pretty solid defensively so I think we’ll be all right.”
Johnson left Saturday’s game after he was hit from behind by a Minnesota-Duluth player in the second period. DiPauli’s injury came Friday night on a clean hit. Junior Garrett Peterson will be first in line to take DiPauli’s place on what has been a productive fourth line so far this season for the Irish.
Those lineup changes will be the last of the mysteries facing Notre Dame this weekend when they get to Gutterson Arena, where no one on the team has skated, to play a team that they have only seen a few times on film. Irish coach Jeff Jackson said learning to adjust to new teams on the fly will be crucial this year for his veteran team.
“That’s the biggest challenge we face this year,” he said. They only have to face us as a new team. We have to face basically 10 new teams. …You watch film, but you don’t get a sense for how they play the game until you actually play them.”
On film, Vermont(1-1-1) has a roster of talented players trying to figure out how to win as a team this season. The Catamounts have won a total of 11 games in the last two seasons, finishing 10th then eighth in the 10-team conference.
Jackson said he expects Vermont’s best game to welcome the highly-ranked Irish to their new conference. Saturday night will be injected with a little extra adrenaline as Vermont celebrates its 50th anniversary of the hockey program with a pre-game ceremony.
“All those things play in. it doesn’t matter who we’re going to play they’re going to be geeked up for us,” Jackson said. “That’s just the way things are going to be all the time. I’m sure most buildings are excited to have Notre Dame come in. Not that it matters to me, but we’re ranked and stuff like that so you go in with a big target on your back.”
The Catamounts have had plenty of time to prepare for Friday’s game. They have played only three games since opening the season Oct. 11 with a loss to North Dakota on the road. Friday’s game is schedule to begin at 7:05 p.m. followed by a 4:30 p.m. start Saturday.