UND hockey back in action after 3 week break
HOFFMAN ESTATES, Ill. -- It has been 21 days since the UND men's hockey team played a regular-season game -- tying the longest midseason break in program history.
Several things have changed since UND's one-goal loss to Wisconsin on Dec. 12, too.
Darcy Zajac is out, recovering from hernia surgery. Danny Kristo is taking a three-week break to play in the World Junior Championship. And Matt Frattin, suspended indefinitely earlier this season, has returned to the team.
So, the Sioux will have a different look when they return to the ice at 3:05 p.m. today against Niagara in the Notre Dame-hosted Shillelagh Tournament.
"It's been a long time since that Saturday night game against Wisconsin," UND coach Dave Hakstol said. "We're looking forward to getting back at it. It's nice to come back after the break and see everyone energized and rejuvenated, mostly mentally. With as young as a team we have, that first semester can be a real grind.
"It was especially that way for our team. Nothing came easy. A few things came easy early on, but in the last six weeks, nothing came easy and it was a grind. I think, mentally, the break has been good for us."
Hakstol said there's always some mystery surrounding teams' first games back from break, no matter how long the team has been off.
"Look at some of the scores from the first games after Christmas," he said. "Those will tell you that anything can happen in those first games back. We want to focus on ourselves. We've got to improve. One point out of four against Wisconsin wasn't good enough. The last six weeks weren't good enough. I'm excited about showing our ability to improve and get over the hump.
"Instead of losing six one-goal games, I hope we can win six-one goal games and show that we matured."
Venue issues plague tourney
The last two summers, Notre Dame has dealt with venue issues regarding the holiday tournament.
It used to be held in Tampa, Fla., under the name, "Lightning College Hockey Classic," but the new ownership of the NHL's Tampa Bay Lightning decided not to sponsor the tournament in the summer of 2008, so Irish officials were sent scrambling.
They found a home at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates and renamed the event after the shillelagh, a wooden club associated with Irish folklore.
Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson took a shot at the Lightning ownership for cancelling the tournament last year.
"I am extremely disappointed in the Tampa Bay Lightning's decision not to continue the tournament," he said. "We had a verbal agreement to continue this for two more years and as hosts of the Frozen Four in 2012, I'm not sure it's the best message to send to the college hockey community by cancelling the tournament at such a late date."
The Sears Centre, which typically hosts concerts, indoor football and lacrosse, ran into issues last summer, when it was facing foreclosure. Although there were worries that the venue would close, the city of Hoffman Estates took over ownership and hired new management.
Events scheduled after Jan. 1 were all kept in place, including this weekend's tournament.
The entire team went on the trip to Chicago, even injured players Chay Genoway and Zajac.
They attended the Chicago Blackhawks-New Jersey Devils game on Thursday night, watching three former Sioux in Jonathan Toews, Zach Parise and Travis Zajac. David Toews and Darcy Zajac were able to watch their big brothers play in person.
"I got to see him at Christmas," Jonathan said of his younger brother. "But we didn't play, so he didn't get to see a game."
Hakstol said there's no update on Genoway's status. He'll miss his 10th and 11th straight games because of post-concussion syndrome. Hakstol said that Zajac is lightly skating and may be ahead of schedule. He was expected to miss four-to-six weeks.
Providence transfer Joe Lavin will be eligible to play for Notre Dame beginning this weekend. Lavin, a fifth-round pick of the Chicago Blackhawks, had one assist in 12 games for the Friars. . . UND recruit Derek Rodwell was picked to play in the Alberta Junior Hockey League All-Star Game. Rodwell, who is expected to come to campus next fall, plays for the Okotoks Oilers. . . Former Sioux defenseman Aaron Schneekloth was named to the Central Hockey League's All-Decade team. . . Former UND defenseman Robbie Bina was picked for the East Coast Hockey League All-Star game.
What: Notre Dame-hosted event in suburban Chicago.
When: UND vs. Niagara, 3 p.m. today; UND vs. Colgate/Notre Dame 2:05 or 5:05 p.m. Sunday.
TV/radio: The Fox (96.1 FM).
Records: UND 9-6-3, Niagara 3-10-2, Colgate 7-6-4, Notre Dame 8-8-4.
Of note: The Sioux will play their first regular-season game since Dec. 12 today.