Notre Dame hockey eyes return to championship form

The Notre Dame boys hockey team is seeded No. 1 in the playoffs.
The Notre Dame boys hockey team is seeded No. 1 in the playoffs.

ASHWAUBENON -- Notre Dame Academy boys hockey won’t bring it up unless you ask them. They’re focused on the next games, specifically a weekend tournament in Detroit where they will face top competition in front of college and junior league scouts. Still, they all know it: a perfect season is possible.

"I can't even explain how great it would be," said senior left wing Jarod Zirbel. "It would be the best thing in the world."

The Tritons are off to a 21-0 start on their season, having trailed their opponents during only two games. They are winning by an average margin of about six goals per game. Head coach Cory McCracken credits senior leadership for his team's quality of play, and also for their ability to avoid distractions like a possible undefeated season. Just ask their senior goalie if it's tough to find room for improvement during a standout season.

"No," said senior goalie Aaron Campbell, shaking his head, "we always have things we can work on as a team, you know."

Notre Dame players say they can trace their success to a meeting they had back at the beginning of the season during a team-building weekend in Sturgeon Bay.

"We talked about a lot of things both good and things that needed to improve from a year ago, things we've learned that caused us to trip on ourself or caused us to not play as well as we should've," said McCracken. "Likewise, when we do things well, play at a high level and give ourselves a chance to win, what do those things look like on the ice and in our locker room, off the ice."

The message to the team, coming primarily from the seniors, was to know your role and execute it. The idea has gotten through to younger players.

"We're less complacent," said junior right wing Sam McCormick. "Like last year, we kind of choked a little bit, so we want to forget about that and get after it this year."

While "choked" may be a harsh self-critique, the Tritons can look back at last season, where they had a near-perfect record during the regular season, only to be derailed by Verona in the state semifinals. Looking to return to their 2012 state title-winning form, Coach McCracken says he still sees room for his guys to improve.

"I don't think we're playing our best hockey at this time of the year," said McCracken. "I think there's some things we need to do to prove that we're capable of stepping into the end of our regular season at a high level and have the confidence we need going into the playoff stretch."

Notre Dame plays in the Michigan Interscholastic Hockey League Prep Showcase this weekend before facing Ashwaubenon to cap off their regular season schedule.