Notre Dame ice hockey encouraged by strong start to the season

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Notre Dame High School ice hockey player Samuel Kraus skates with the puck into the St. Joseph Metuchen zone during a game played on Dec. 23. Notre Dame is 5-2-1 to start the season.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Notre Dame High School ice hockey player Jakob Papiez skates past center ice with the puck during the team's game against St. Joseph Metuchen on Dec. 23. The Irish lost to the Falcons 7-2.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Notre Dame High School ice hockey player Samuel Kraus skates with the puck into the St. Joseph Metuchen zone during a game played on Dec. 23. Notre Dame is 5-2-1 to start the season.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Notre Dame High School ice hockey player Jakob Papiez skates past center ice with the puck during the team's game against St. Joseph Metuchen on Dec. 23. The Irish lost to the Falcons 7-2.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF

The Notre Dame High School ice hockey coaches and players are pleased to be in the position they’re in heading into the new year.

Despite going 0-2-1 in its last three games after starting the season off 5-0, coach Mike McVey believes his team has played well during the first half of the season and is happy with the 5-2-1 start to the season for the school from Lawrenceville.

“We’re doing well to start the season,” McVey said. “We have had some tough competition. Very few games off. Overall, I’m happy with how we played during the first half of the season.”

Outscoring its opponents, 27-12, to win its first four games of the season, Notre Dame kept rolling with a huge victory on Dec. 16 against then undefeated Robbinsville.

The Irish battled back from a two-goal deficit to defeat the Ravens, 5-3, and stay undefeated in Colonial Valley Conference play.

After its big victory over Robbinsville, Notre Dame suffered its first loss of the season against undefeated Saint Joseph Regional High School of Montvale, losing 7-1, in the Egan Cup series play on Dec. 18 at The Lawrenceville School’s Loucks Ice Center.

Notre Dame was able to get a 3-3 tie in its next contest against an undefeated CVC foe, Princeton High School, on Dec. 20, before facing off against Saint Joseph Regional High School of Metuchen on Dec. 23 in another tough Egan Cup series matchup at the Loucks Ice Center in Lawrenceville.

A goal from sophomore Will Celli helped the Irish tie things up at 1-1 with 8:23 to go in the first period. That was as close as the Irish got to staying with the Falcons, who scored two goals in 30 seconds just a minute later to take back the lead and rolled to a 7-2 victory over Notre Dame.

Senior Josh Neville scored his first goal of the season during the third period in the loss for Notre Dame.

The Irish’s recent tough four-game stretch will make them a better for the second half of the season, believes McVey.

“Pulling out a win against Robbinsville and getting a tie against Princeton was big for us in these last four games,” McVey said. “These games teach you that you have to come out with a lot of energy to play at a fast tempo. You can’t take any games off.” 

Celli has been nothing but stellar during the first half of the season for the Irish.

The young sophomore leads the team in goals with 11 and has also dished out seven assists so far this season.

Notre Dame’s offense runs through Celli and his running mate, junior Carson Skove, who did not play for the Irish against Saint Joseph of Metuchen.

Skove has a team-high 10 assists and has scored eight goals this season.

Senior Ryan Nemec also tallied eight goals for the Irish during the first half of the assist, along with six assists.

The Irish will add even more fire power with transfers Dylan Palmer from West Windsor-Plainsboro co-op team and Hayden Watson from the Hun School both being eligible to play when the team comes back from its holiday break to face Bishop Eustace High School on Jan. 3.

McVey sees both players as big additions to the team and will give the Irish more depth.

“We’re going to be leaning on our offense a lot this year,” McVey said. “We have a lot of experience on that end.”

McVey’s hope is for the Irish to come out flying high when they get back from their break and hit the ground running to begin the second half of the season.

With it’s tough schedule in the second half of the season, Notre Dame can’t take any games off, said McVey.

“We have to keep getting better each game,” McVey said. “We have a tough schedule ahead of us. We have to come out swinging and not take any games off.”

Follow Steven Bassin on Twitter @SBassin_Sports