Notre Dame's hockey program has a lot to look forward to this season. The Fighting Irish will be playing in a new conference, will have different travel arrangements, and will be playing in the marquee game of this season's Frozen Fenway at the home of the Boston Red Sox.
Notre Dame head hockey coach Jeff Jackson has been around a long time. He led Lake Superior to two national championships and six NCAA Tournament appearances in six seasons in the early 90s. After a hiatus into major junior and professional hockey, he came back to college hockey to take over the Notre Dame program for the start of the 2005-06 season.
That might make you think that Jackson would be used to the status quo and scoff at the thought of change. However, that's not how he looks at it. "It's going to be all new. For an old guy like me that's pretty exciting," said Jackson.
Jackson has led Notre Dame to the NCAA Tournament five times, including last season. The Irish advanced to the Frozen Four in two of those five tournament appearances. Now Jackson will have new challenges as he looks to guide his program to a sixth NCAA appearance under his watch.
"It's going to be a challenge. We're going to be playing in all new venues against teams we have no idea what their style is, and with new officials who we don't know and they won't know us," said Jackson of the switch to Hockey East.
Notre Dame's bench boss also believes the teams his Irish squad will be facing in Hockey East present more trouble than those in the CCHA. "I think [Hockey East] top-to-bottom will be a lot tougher than what we've been accustomed to [in the CCHA]. There are more high-end teams than we faced in the CCHA on a consistent basis."
Jackson believes this is an ideal year for his team to have to make an adjustment with such a large group of upperclassmen. ""It's a perfect year for us because we have a big senior class. They're going to get tired of listening to me so they're going to have something new and exciting to be involved in," said Jackson of how his players will react to the move to Hockey East."
Jackson isn't the only one excited about his team's chances for this upcoming season. Senior captain Jeff Costello accompanied him to Boston for the media day and expressed his confidence in his team. "We're really excited. It's going to be an awesome year for us. It's a great league with a storied tradition and a lot of great teams," said Costello. "We're looking forward to the challenge and see what we can do," he added.
Costello had the added pressure of throwing out the first pitch prior to Friday night's Red Sox-White Sox game at Fenway Park. Costello, a native of Milwaukee, Wis., said his baseball experience prior to Friday night was minimal. "In the cul-de-sac with my friends," said Costello on the extent of his baseball playing escapades growing up. "I think the biggest thing is everyone has been telling me what style to throw and how they messed up when they did it. I'm just going to keep my eye on the prize and get it done," Costello added before his ceremonial first pitch.
Jackson and Costello are both used to playing games outdoors. The Fighting Irish played Miami last season at Soldiers Field in Chicago. Due to sunny skies and balmy temperature the game was played on terrible ice, but the Irish came out on top, 2-1.
Jackson is happy some of the Notre Dame alumni base can see the Irish play hockey more now with the switch to Hockey East and playing on the big stage at Fenway Park in January.
"I think Boston and New York City are the two [biggest] areas for alumni of the University of Notre Dame. It's obviously a huge media market, as well. We're extremely excited to be a part of Hockey East," said Jackson on playing in Hockey East and the Frozen Fenway.
The one question that kept coming up was regarding travel in the new league. Both Jackson and Costello didn't mind the change, and almost preferred the new travel arrangements.
"Time-wise I think we'll have less time on the road than we did in the CCHA. It'll be better. Two-hour plane rides as opposed to long bus rides. We'll miss less class time," said Jackson.
"We're pretty fortunate this year. We don't travel too much even for our nonconference games. It's going to be different. We're going to be traveling in style. Hopefully that will help us on the weekends in the games," said Costello, a fifth round pick of the Ottawa Senators.
One thing is for sure. With the passionate, loyal alumni and fan base that the Notre Dame brand carries, the Fighting Irish hockey program will create a buzz at a Hockey East arena very soon.
Jeff Cox is a hockey reporter for SBNation. Follow him on twitter @JeffCoxSBNation.