Displaying significant improvement each year he played for the Brunswick School ice hockey team, Ryan Carmichael’s dream of competing in college at the Division I level seemed more like an attainable goal by the time he reached his senior season for the Bruins.
And it is one the 2018 Brunswick graduate will soon meet.
Carmichael, a Greenwich native, signed a national letter of intent last week to play hockey at the University of Notre Dame.
The 6-foot-2, 185-pound defenseman will join Notre Dame’s hockey team for its 2019-2020 campaign next season.
“I take a lot of pride in academics and I knew Notre Dame has great academic and hockey programs,” Carmichael said. “Notre Dame was among one of my target schools, but I never thought it would be possible to go there. When they offered me, I knew the school has everything I am looking for — great academics, athletics and an amazing community — it had the full package for me.”
Guided by longtime coach Jeff Jackson (14 seasons at the helm) Notre Dame plays in the Big Ten in hockey, where it usually contends for the regular season and conference titles each season.
“The history behind the school and its reputation is so impressive,” said Carmichael, who noted that business and psychology are among his academic interests. “It seems like it’s a really good fit for me and I think it’s pretty cool to go to school at a place that I’m not too familiar with. I’m interested in seeing other parts of the country.”
Receiving an offer from Notre Dame a couple of months ago, Carmichael joined the Fargo Force hockey team of the United States Hockey League shortly after graduating from Brunswick. Carmichael, 19, is a defenseman for the Force, a junior hockey team, based out of Fargo, North Dakota.
The Force play a 62-game schedule and Carmichael has three goals and three assists through 17 contests for the squad, which is in fifth place in the league’s eight-team Western Division.
“For me, one of the biggest challenges, or biggest fears with playing junior hockey is the uncertainty that goes with it,” Carmichael said. “I was talking to my dad about it recently and he said this year with the team is worth about five years of school. I’ve already learned so much about myself from being on this team and away from home. Having this pressure to perform every night and learning how to handle the pressure are aspects that will help me with things later on in life. Every single day is a challenge.”
Junior hockey gives players an opportunity to focus on honing their skills each day.
“I’m not in school right now, so I have a lot of free time to go to the rink, which I do two times a day,” Carmichael said. “I work on my shot, puck retrieval and little nuances of the game. There’s a lot of extra time to work on little things that makes a huge difference in your confidence.”
While at Brunswick, Carmichael started out as a forward, but his role changed after two seasons. He was switched to the blue line as a junior, becoming one of the Bruins’ main defensemen. His size also changed too.
“My freshman year I was 5-foot-6, 125 pounds and by the time I was a senior, I was 6-2, 185,” he said. “I made the change from forward to defense, because of my size.”
As a freshman, Carmichael didn’t make the Bruins’ varsity squad, so he played on the school’s junior varsity team.
“Not making the varsity team as a freshman was one of the best things that happened to me,” he said. “It made me work hard and set goals for myself.”
Carmichael was selected to play on Brunswick’s varsity team his sophomore year and as a junior, his role increased.
“Ryan was a late bloomer,” said Brunswick former coach Ron VanBelle, who recently stepped down as coach of the Bruins after 13 successful seasons. “He had a growth spurt around his junior year and by the time he was a senior for us he was a much different player than he was as a freshman and sophomore. He started getting looks from school his senior year and the next thing you know, Notre Dame was interested, it all happened very quickly.”
The switch to defense was a smooth transition for Carmichael.
“He spent the first year-and-a-half learning the position, then this past season, when he was a senior, he was one of our co-captains and played significant minutes,” VanBelle said. “He was one of the main reasons for our success this past season.”
During Carmichael’s senior season (2017-18), the Bruins captured their first NEPSAC championship, defeating Thayer Academy, 4-3, in overtime of the NEPSAC Division I Large School final.
Carmichael set up teammate Jack Forrest’s game-winning goal, carrying the puck down the ice, then registering a shot on goal, that deflected off the goalie’s pads and was knocked in by Forrest, giving the Bruins their biggest win in program history.
“We struggled during certain parts of the season, so when we won, a ton of pressure was lifted off us,” Carmichael said of winning the NEPSAC title. “It was a total relief and it was so exciting for me to win the championship with my best friends at school. We all worked so hard to get to that point, so to achieve that goal with my teammates was very exciting.”
A high-scoring defenseman, Carmichael registered eight goals and 22 assists for Brunswick last season.
“Being an ex-forward, he had a good feel for the offensive side of the position,” VanBelle said. “He became an offensive threat as a defenseman, showing a good shot with the ability to strike quickly.”
Carmichael hopes to continue to showcase the intangibles he brings to the blue line for the Fargo Force and is eager to help Notre Dame continue to ascend. The Fighting Irish won the Big Ten regular season and conference tournament title last winter then made it to the championship game of the NCAA Tournament where they lost to Minnesota Duluth.
“The team has a great tradition,” Carmichael said. “They have never won a national championship, last year they came so close, so they are ready to make a run again. When I join the team I hope to help them be in the hunt for a national championship.”