March 4, 2002
Notre Dame, Ind. – By Tim Connor
Notre Dame center Connor Dunlop is always willing to help. Help his team score goals that is.
The Irish junior center heads into the Central Collegiate Hockey Association’s (CCHA) playoffs as one of the league’s premier playmakers.
Dunlop finished the regular season tied for fourth in the CCHA in scoring with nine goals and 33 assists for 42 points. The all-America and all-CCHA candidate’s 33 assists are the most by an Irish player since the program returned to the CCHA in 1991-92. They also rank him third in the league in that category.
As the college hockey world is learning, setting up goals is what Dunlop’s game is all about.
“For me, a four or five assist game is better than scoring four or five goals,” says Dunlop.
“For most people, it’s the other way around. I get more satisfaction in setting up a goal than scoring one, but I’ll take the goals too,” added Dunlop with a smile.
Without question the 2001-02 season has been a breakthrough year for Dunlop. His 42 points doubles his offensive output for the previous two years as he recorded 35 points during his freshman and sophomore years combined.
“I guess I’m a little surprised by being among the league leaders, but it’s something that I’ve always expected of myself,” comments Dunlop.
“When I came to Notre Dame I was expecting to be in the top four or five in scoring at least by my second or third year. Knowing the players in the CCHA, I think I can compete with them on an offensive level. It’s a little surprising, but it’s expected too.”
Dunlop got his season off to a steady start with six points in the first six games before he exploded with the first four-point game of his career in Notre Dame’s 5-4 win over then 12th-ranked Northern Michigan.
On the season, Dunlop leads the Irish with 13-multiple point games including three, three-point nights (he closed the regular season with a goal and two assists in Notre Dame’s 4-1 win over Bowling Green on March 2) and two games with four points. Throw in a career-best nine-game point streak (2g, 9a) from Dec. 1 to Jan. 4 and it’s easy to see why Notre Dame counts on the quiet leader.
Another reason for Dunlop’s success this season is the way he and linemate David Inman have meshed on the ice as both have put together career years for the Irish. Inman heads into Notre Dame’s CCHA playoff series at Nebraska-Omaha with a team-high 17 goals and is second to Dunlop with 35 points on the year.
Dunlop isn’t surprised that the dynamic duo has played so well this season.
“Dave’s the guy who wants to score the goals and I’m the guy who wants to pass the puck. It just works out perfect. I’m always looking to make the play to the guy who is going to shoot, more than being the guy who is doing the shooting. Our styles have fit perfectly,” says Dunlop.
The St. Louis, Mo., native also embraced the role of being one of the team’s leaders. He was selected as one of Notre Dame’s alternate captains for this season following the 2000-01 campaign.
“I’ve always excelled in leadership roles,” explains Dunlop.
“I’ve been a captain on pretty much every team I’ve been on. I feel very comfortable with that role. It helped me this year coming in knowing that I was one of the team leaders. I think it’s really helped my all around game.”
While Dunlop is known for his offensive exploits he also plays a key role defensively for the Irish.
One of the team’s best faceoff men (he’s won 53.5% of his face offs this season), Dunlop is usually on the ice to take the key draws at both ends of the ice. He credits being quick on the draw to quick hands, out-thinking his opponent and some pretty good hockey genes.
“I try to use my quickness and I really believe face offs are a lot more of a mental thing than people realize,” says Dunlop.
“I really learned a lot from my dad. He played center and was really good at draws. He’s really helped me with the little things that it takes to win the draw. Plus, I really take pride in winning the face off,” adds Dunlop.
The 21-year old Dunlop credits his father, Blake Dunlop, with being the best coach he’s ever had. The elder Dunlop spent 11 seasons in the National Hockey League with Minnesota, Philadelphia, St. Louis and Detroit. He had 404 career points (130 goals, 274 assists) in 550 career games. It’s obvious that when the father spoke, the son was listening.
“My dad is the best coach I’ve ever had,” says Dunlop emphatically.
“I think that the bloodlines in hockey – where there is some level of talent that is passed down through him being my father – plays a part. But, also having him at practices and at all my games when I was younger when the base of all your skills is being developed has been a major part of my development. The car rides home after a game is where I learned a lot about the game
While Dunlop’s hockey skills have brought him to Notre Dame, they have also taken him all over the world in recent years. He spent two seasons with the USA Hockey Developmental program and as a freshman and sophomore he played on the U.S. Junior National team at the World Junior Championships, serving as team captain for the 2001 Championships.
The recent Olympics have reminded the Irish center of the excitement of playing for your country.
“Playing for your country is the greatest honor you can have. When I watch the Olympic games, I get a little jealous that I couldn’t go this year (to World Junior Championships) because I’m older. The two years that I played were two of the greatest experiences of my life. Playing against the best from other countries is not something that everyone gets to do,” says Dunlop.
As the league’s second season gets ready to start, Dunlop thinks the Irish are playing the kind of hockey that it takes to be successful as the team enters the playoffs with a five-game winning streak.
“I think the way we’ve played the last three weekends has given us a confidence boost. The Michigan State series showed everyone in the room that we can play with anyone. That series was a big step for this team,” explains Dunlop.