It was only 10-and-a-half months ago that Crystal Lake native Tory Dello captained Tri-City to the Clark Cup as champions of the United States Hockey League. Now, in his freshman season as a defenseman with Notre Dame, his team will play in the Frozen Four starting Thursday in his former backyard.
“I think I might have (played at the United Center) when I was maybe 10 years old, but it’s something I don’t remember,” Dello said after Wednesday’s practice session. “Youth hockey type stuff, but nothing of this magnitude.
“I had a long season last year, and I didn’t get much of an offseason, but it was nice to just jump right in and starting practicing and start playing hockey again. It’s been a really fun, challenging first year, and to be here in my first year is really special.”
Notre Dame (23-11-5) will face top-seeded Denver (31-7-4) in Thursday’s second semifinal after Harvard (28-5-2) takes on Minnesota-Duluth (27-6-7).
The 20-year-old Dello was one of five freshmen who played in 35 or more games, giving the Fighting Irish the depth they needed to support the returning upperclassmen and reach the Frozen Four. He has been paired most of the season with junior defenseman Luke Ripley.
He registered his first collegiate point in his first game Oct. 7 against Arizona State and his first collegiate goal Oct. 27 against the University of Connecticut. Over his first 38 games this season, Dello had 12 points.
“It’s always our goal to make it to the Frozen Four and have a chance at winning a national championship,” Dello said. “A few months ago we probably didn’t expect to be here, but we’ve been rolling over the past few months, and we’re glad to be here, and we’re going to take advantage of this opportunity.”
Notre Dame began the season a pedestrian 7-6-2, but that included a win on the road against Minnesota-Duluth. A five-game winning streak began Dec. 3 sparked by a home win over nationally ranked Boston University after trailing, 2-0.
Those were some of the signs that the Fighting Irish could put together a run. They’ve lost only twice since the calendar turned to February.
“I don’t remember the exact point, but we knew a few months back that it was crunch time, and we needed to start picking up some games and getting some points if we wanted to put ourselves in a good spot to get here,” Dello said.
Now Dello, who attended Crystal Lake Central, will try to handle the pressure of playing on the big stage on national TV near his hometown – along with Illinois-born teammates Bobby Nardella and Jack Jenkins and Blackhawks draft pick Dennis Gilbert.
“I have too many people requesting tickets, but it’s awesome to see the family and friends and all the support we’re all going to have,” he said. “It’s something special, and we’re going to use it as home-ice advantage.
“We were at the Garden (TD Garden in Boston for the Hockey East playoffs), and I think this is the Garden times 10. I think it’s the best rink in the world, so we’ll all be very excited going into [Thursday].”