Feb. 25, 2003
Notre Dame, Ind. –
By Tim Connor
As the old saying goes, “time sure flies when you’re having fun.” For all the members of Notre Dame’s senior hockey class that feeling is slowly sinking in as the 2002-03 season comes down to the final six weeks.
For Irish center iceman Connor Dunlop four seasons wearing the blue and gold jersey have sure zipped by.
“It really has gone by pretty quick. You come in as a freshman thinking wow, I have so much time here and now that my senior year is almost over, I look back and it’s really flown by,” said Dunlop earlier this week.
As one of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association’s (CCHA) top playmakers over the past two seasons, Dunlop has put together a solid career at Notre Dame.
His play in Notre Dame’s recent home sweep of Lake Superior is one of the reasons why the Irish are battling for fifth-place and home ice in the CCHA playoffs.
In the Feb. 22 win over the Lakers, Dunlop scored twice, including the game winner, and set up two others for his first four-point game of the season and the third of his career.
The veteran center got the Irish on the board in that game when he scored off a scramble in front of Laker goaltender Terry Denike at 1:16 of the first period.
His second goal came on the power play at 18:27 of the second stanza and snapped a 3-3 tie. This time, Dunlop tucked the rebound of Jake Wiegand’s shot past Denike for his fifth goal of the season. He then set up Brett Lebda’s third-period insurance goal and Michael Chin’s empty netter to seal the win.
Both the Irish center and his coach Dave Poulin were happy to see Dunlop’s name in the scoring column.
“I don’t think I did anything different tonight than I’ve been doing the last couple of weeks. Tonight I got some bounces and the puck went in the net.,” said Dunlop.
“Personally it’s nice to contribute and for the team it was nice to get our fourth in a row to set up the last four games of the season.”
Poulin added, “We need Connor Dunlop down the stretch. He had a big game tonight. He made a great pass to Lebda on what was a big goal for us in the third period. When he scores for us, that makes him even more dangerous as a passer.”
Being a passer has always been Dunlop’s game, but he doesn’t mind lighting the lamp from time to time. He leads the Irish in assists this season and has five goals and 23 helpers to rank third on the team in scoring with 28 points. His 23 assists rank him seventh in the CCHA.
For his career, the 5-11, 192-pound center became the 39th player in Irish history to score 100 points in his career on Jan. 10th when he helped set up a John Wroblewski power-play goal at Ferris State. He is currently tied for 33rd all-time with 24 goals and 84 assists for 108 points.
His 36 assists as a junior ranked him third among CCHA players and were the seventh highest total in the nation last season. His 84 career assists put him 20th on Notre Dame’s all-time list.
“That’s really my strength as a player,” says Dunlop.
“I like to chip in my goals when I can, but my job is to be the playmaker and set up my teammates. Being the set-up guy is what I’ve always wanted to do, but I also want to be an all-around player.”
That’s something that Dunlop has achieved over the course of his career. A highly sought recruit from USA Hockey’s Under-18 Developmental Program, the St. Louis, Mo., native joined coach Dave Poulin’s program in 1999 and has played a key role ever since.
While nagging groin and leg injuries have slowed Dunlop offensively this season, they haven’t stopped him from doing all the little things that he does so well, the things that never end up on the stat sheet.
One of the top face off men on the team and in the CCHA (he’s won 56.6% of his draws this season), Dunlop is usually on the ice to take key face offs at either end of the ice.
Dunlop’s face off skills came into play in the Irish sweep at Bowling Green (Feb. 14-15). In Friday’s 3-2 win, he won 15 of 22 draws and on Saturday, he won a big draw that helped set up Notre Dame’s first goal.
“It was a key face off just inside their blue line at the start of a power play. I got it back to Brett (Lebda) and he moved it to Yan (Stastny). They left Jake (Wiegand) all alone and Yan got it to him for a breakaway goal,” explains Dunlop.
He added, “I’ve always taken pride in my work on face offs. It’s an important aspect of the game that people don’t realize. When you win a face off, your team gets possession of the puck. That’s why it’s such an important part of the game.”
Big face off wins weren’t the only thing the crafty center contributed to the 3-2 win. He scored the second of the night for the Irish that broke a 1-1 second-period tie.
“It’s always good to get a chance to score. Michael Chin did a great job of taking the puck to the net. The goalie made the save and the rebound came to me. I just out waited him and put it in over his glove,” says Dunlop.
Another aspect of Dunlop’s game that doesn’t appear in the box score is his leadership skill.
As one of the team’s three alternate captains, Dunlop and his teammates have done a good job helping the Irish weather the storm of a rough January that saw them go 1-5-3.
“We had a tough month in January. We got on a slide; a couple guys got hurt and some guys went into a slump at the same time. It’s hard to attribute it to any one thing,” says Dunlop.
“The key is that we stuck together and just kept working hard. We got two wins last weekend at Bowling Green and now we have a chance to move up in the standings.”
During his four years with the Irish, Dunlop has experienced many things as both a hockey player and as a student. He’s played a key role in helping the Irish hockey program advance to Joe Louis Arena in two of the last three years.
When he looks back on his time in South Bend, he’s also learned a lot about himself.
“I have learned a lot about the ups-and-downs of hockey – dealing with injuries, dealing with the good times and the bad. That’s one thing that I will take with me when I’m done here,” says Dunlop.
As his playing days wind down at Notre Dame, the son of former NHL standout Blake Dunlop, still has several goals that he hopes his team can reach.
“For me, our two trips to the Joe have been the highlights for me and were big for our team and we look forward to getting back there again this season,” says Dunlop.
“Hopefully we can have a strong finish to this year and try to make it to our ultimate goal which is the NCAAs. That’s something that I’d like to participate in by the end of my four years.”
Dunlop plans on playing hockey as long as he can after graduation. One thing he’s sure of is that he made the right decision to come to Notre Dame over five years ago.
He says, “Notre Dame’s been good for me. I learned a lot here and made some great friendships. That’s going to be the hardest part in leaving – all the friendships and great relationships that you develop with your teammates. I know it will all help me in the future.”