Kristo puts being a Notre Dame fan aside for a couple of hoursNOTRE DAME, Ind. — Danny Kristo is just as excited as everyone else here about Notre Dame’s football team being ranked No. 1 for the first time since 1993.
By: Brad Schlossman, The Dickinson Press
NOTRE DAME, Ind. — Danny Kristo is just as excited as everyone else here about Notre Dame’s football team being ranked No. 1 for the first time since 1993.
“I did grow up in Indiana for six or seven years,” the University of North Dakota senior forward said.
Kristo owns a couple of Notre Dame pennants and a jersey, but his Fighting Irish pride will be put on hold for a few hours this weekend. UND is in town to take on Notre Dame in a battle of two of the country’s top-ranked men’s hockey teams (5:35 tonight, 3:05 p.m. Saturday).
UND enters ranked No. 7 nationally with a 5-3-2 mark and is coming off of a three-point weekend against Minnesota-Duluth. Notre Dame enters ranked No. 6 nationally with an 8-3 mark. The Irish are coming off of their first sweep of Michigan in Ann Arbor since 1978.
“It’s definitely a big series,” Kristo said. “In nonconference play, we’re 2-2 with four games to go. It’s a big series. We need to be ready to go.”
Scoring goals may not be easy for UND this weekend. Defense has been Notre Dame’s identity since Jeff Jackson took over as head coach in 2005.
The year prior to Jackson’s arrival, Notre Dame ranked 50th nationally in team defense. Jackson improved that to 26th in his first year, and in four of the past seven seasons, the Irish have ranked in the top five nationally in goals allowed.
It’s more of the same this year for the Irish. They are allowing just 1.64 goals per game, which is second-best in the country. They haven’t allowed more than three goals in any game this season, despite playing against nationally ranked foes like Michigan, Boston College and Western Michigan.
Leading the defensive corps are second-round NHL draft pick Stephen Johns and fourth-round pick Robbie Russo, both products of the National Team Development Program. Backstopping the defense is junior goalie Steven Summerhays, who has a .939 save percentage and a 1.51 goals-against average.
“I think they’re committed defensively,” UND coach Dave Hakstol said. “I think they’re good in the neutral zone. They do a good job in their defensive zone. If you allow their structure to set up back in the defensive zone, there’s not a lot of shooting lanes. I think you have to find ways to attack off the forecheck, attack off the rush and get pucks to the net from all different angles. If you try to get too cute, too pretty, it’s pretty hard to get them through some of the shooting lanes on them.”
The offensive leaders for the Irish are juniors Anders Lee and T.J. Tynan. Lee was a high school teammate of UND’s Joe Gleason and Connor Gaarder at Edina. Tynan is a dynamic threat who tallied 95 points in his first two seasons of college hockey.
“Obviously, they are a very good team,” said UND freshman forward Rocco Grimaldi, who will have 10 to 12 friends from Michigan coming to watch him play, including his high school math teacher. “I know a lot of players on their team. I played with and against a lot of those guys for a lot of years.”
After this series, UND only has two nonconference games left against Holy Cross, so there aren’t many opportunities for the team to improve its nonconference record, which will be key come NCAA tournament selection time.
“It should be a heck of a series,” Hakstol said. “There’s a lot on the line when you play these types of nonconference series.”
And come Saturday night, Kristo will board a charter flight headed back to Grand Forks, hoping that Notre Dame’s only win of the weekend will come on the football field.
“Obviously, we have some business to take care of,” he said. “But I wish the football team the best of luck.”