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Sunday, March 3, 2024
The Observer

Notre Dame hockey: Player updates announced in offseason

After posting a 16-16-5 record and missing the NCAA tournament, the Irish hockey offseason is in full swing. Two of the team’s three Hobey Baker Award nominees, senior goaltender Ryan Bischel and senior forward Trevor Janicke, announced Monday they would return for the 2023-24 season. Meanwhile, three Irish forwards have signed professional contracts over the past two weeks.

With Bischel’s return, the Irish already have a head-start on next year’s NCAA Tournament aspirations. The netminder took the conference by storm in his first full season as Notre Dame’s starter, securing the Big Ten Goaltender of the Year award. As of this week, Bischel’s 1,183 saves still lead the nation, and his .931 save percentage ranks third in America. Over the season’s final 13 games, Bischel stopped 40-plus shots on four different occasions, carrying Notre Dame back into postseason contention.

Janicke, a 2022-23 alternate captain, will also remain in South Bend after a productive year. The Anaheim Ducks draft pick led all returning players in goals (eight), assists (14), points (22) and shots (95). In Jan., he scored a highlight-reel goal against Frozen Four qualifier Minnesota, spinning off a check and roofing a shot on elite goaltender Justen Close. With his ability to move between center and wing, Janicke will be a key piece. He could anchor a number one line with current sophomore Justin Janicke and junior Landon Slaggert, forming a unit that could be lethal at its full potential. 

Rolston departs early for Original Six franchise

Junior forward Ryder Rolston opened the offseason by signing with the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks. The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Boston native will begin his professional career with Chicago’s AHL affiliate, the Rockford IceHogs. The terms of the entry-level deal are three years at an $895,000 cap hit through 2025-26. If you do the math, that means the contract’s duration won’t begin until next year. However, Rolston will be on a professional tryout through the end of this season, rendering him eligible for the AHL postseason. The IceHogs currently hold the Central Division’s last playoff spot with nine games remaining.

Whether or not Rolston heals up in time for the postseason is still unclear. His junior season concluded abruptly when he suffered a broken collarbone against Wisconsin at the end of Jan. Even so, he finished third on the Irish with seven goals, 13 assists and 20 points. During the year, he earned three different four-game point streaks, including one right before his injury. The rebuilding Blackhawks, who traded with the Colorado Avalanche for Rolston’s draft rights in April 2021, are excited to see how his speed translates to the next level. 

Rolston wraps up his Irish career with 53 points in 93 games played. His father, Brian, played 17 NHL seasons, tallying 761 career points and winning a Stanley Cup in 1995.

Bakich, Primeau head to ECHL

Two more Irish forwards have inked professional deals over the past 10 days. Senior Solag Bakich and graduate Chayse Primeau have both moved on to the East Coast Hockey League. Bakich agreed to an amateur tryout contract with the Reading Royals, an affiliate of the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers, and has already played three games. Known for his tenacious playing style, Bakich logged 33 points in 108 games at Notre Dame. The Dallas native led all Irish forwards with 39 blocked shots in 2022-23 and registered two points in the Big Ten quarterfinal round.

Meanwhile, Primeau journeyed south on his first professional contract with the Florida Everblades, a Panthers’ affiliate. Like Bakich, he has already played three games with his new team, registering three shots in his debut. A skilled face-off man and netfront presence, Primeau played four collegiate seasons at Omaha before transferring to Notre Dame. In his final year, he led the Irish with 23 points on eight goals and 15 assists. Primeau’s 53.3 face-off win percentage also paced the team.