SOUTH BEND — When Jake Boltmann is on the ice skating for the No. 12 Notre Dame hockey team, pucks seem to find him — literally.
The 6-foot-1, 200-pound defenseman returns to his home state this weekend with his Fighting Irish teammates, six of whom hail from “The Land of 10,000 Lakes,” to play a Big Ten series with No. 3 Minnesota on the Olympic-size (200 feet by 100 feet) sheet of ice in the 3M Arena at Mariucci in Minneapolis.
The Edina native returns with a lot of body welts. In Notre Dame’s 4-2-2 start this season, Boltmann has blocked 21 shots, including a season-high eight in a 5-4 victory over Northern Michigan Oct. 16. His 2.6 average per game is eighth best in the nation.
“I never have been and probably never will be known a skill guy,” the 21-year-old Boltmann joked. “Whatever I must do for us to win, especially on the penalty kill, I’m going to do. Blocking shots is part of the shutdown process. Besides, we have a nice ice bath here and ‘Ricksie’ (trainer Kevin Ricks) takes care of us well, so I have nothing to worry about.”
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Last season, Boltmann was paired with graduate student Adam Karashik, a transfer from Connecticut, who finished third in the nation with 99 blocks in 40 games (2.5 per game). Boltmann learned well from the master, finishing with 53 blocks himself.
“Adam was awesome about shot-blocking,” Boltmann said. “Every day in practice, he brought the same intensity. He was driven to get better every single day. He was a great captain, laying his body on the line to block shots, even in practice.”
Hockey players are noted for being fearless, and even though the players are bigger and faster, players are not afraid to throw their bodies in front of a shot headed toward their goaltender.
“The game is always changing,” Boltmann continued. “It’s a quicker game now and there’s a lot of shots trying to get through, and that’s probably why the (shot-blocking) numbers have had a jump. We do have better equipment now, too, so we’re probably better protected than the guys back in the day.”
It’s not far-fetched that Boltmann might be playing this weekend for the Gophers against the Fighting Irish. Boltmann remembers attending games between Notre Dame and Minnesota and watching current New York Islanders captain Anders Lee skate for Jackson’s Irish as a youngster from 2010-13.
Then Minnesota head coach Don Lucia, who played defense for the late Lefty Smith from 1977-81 at Notre Dame, and top assistant Mike Guentzel had Boltmann, then playing at state powerhouse Edina High School, committed to playing for the Gophers. But after Lucia stepped down in 2018 and was replaced by current coach Bob Motzko, Boltmann re-opened his commitment while playing for the Lincoln Stars of the United States Hockey League.
Shortly after he was chosen by Calgary in the third round with the 80th overall pick of the 2020 NHL Draft, Boltmann reopened his commitment. And shortly before Christmas that year, he opted to join Notre Dame as a second-semester freshman in 2021. Boltmann is listed as a sophomore on Notre Dame’s roster this season and will have two seasons remaining after this one because of an extra year the NCAA gave athletes playing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Jake and I debate whether he’s a freshman or a sophomore,” Irish coach Jeff Jackson joked. “I think it helped him last year playing with a guy like Adam, learning how to be a good defender, a hard defender, a guy willing to pay the price. And I think Jake has followed suit. He’s a solid defender, but he also has pretty good ability to make a play with the puck, too.”
And on Mariucci’s Olympic-size rink, which is 10 feet wider than the Lefty Smith Rink at the Compton Family Ice Arena, Boltmann will have a little more room to maneuver and show off his overall skills. Boltmann can’t wait to get home.
“I don’t know how many games I’ve played in Mariucci growing up, and I have a lot of friends on that Minnesota team,” Boltmann said. “My family and many friends will be there. I’m excited — it’s going to be a blast.”