Nov. 13, 2000
by Tim Connor
From future golf pro to leader of the Notre Dame hockey team.
It’s funny what can happen to someone in the short space of four years.
Just ask Notre Dame hockey standout Ryan Dolder. He’s lived it and heading into his senior year, things seem to be working out for the Hutchinson, Minn. native.
For fans of Irish hockey, it’s hard to believe that a little over four years ago, Dolder had planned on giving up hockey. After two seasons playing junior hockey in the United States Hockey League, the senior marketing major received no Division I offers as his final season (1996-97) ended.
Frustrated, he decided to give up on hockey and head west for Palm Springs, Calif., to live with his grandparents and attend junior college while he tried to turn his one handicap into a job as a golf professional.
Those plans were put on hold though when former Notre Dame assistant coach Tom Carroll called. It seems the Irish were interested in Dolder and invited him to walk on the team for the 1996-97 season.
Carroll’s boss, current Notre Dame head coach Dave Poulin, was willing to take a chance on the future golf pro.
“Tom Carroll had seen him play a number of times,” says Poulin, now in his sixth year as head coach of the Irish hockey program.
“What stood out about Ryan was he is a hard working kid who skates very well. There’s always room for that kind of kid on a team. Tom had seen him play a number of times and really liked his work ethic and thought he could play at this level.”
Hard work quickly became Dolder’s trademark as he worked his way into the lineup as a freshman, mostly as a checking forward, netting three goals in 26 games that season.
As a sophomore, Dolder registered nine points (five goals, four assists), again seeing duty on the Irish checking line. Last season, the hard-working Dolder had a breakthrough year, finishing fourth on the team in scoring, with career bests in goals (10), assists (14) and points (24). He also showed a penchant for scoring big goals, including netting a goal in each game of Notre Dame’s first- round playoff series with Ferris State that sent the Irish to the CCHA finals at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.
Early in this, his final year in South Bend, Dolder has continued to score big goals. His first goal, and Notre Dame’s only goal, came against Boston College at the Maverick Stampede in Omaha, Neb. He scored two goals in 19 seconds to lead the Irish to a come-from-behind 6-4 win against Northeastern on Oct. 20. Two weeks ago against Michigan State, the blue-collar forward scored a prototypical Dolder goal versus Spartan All-America goaltender Ryan Miller.
With the Irish trailing 2-1, center Aaron Gill carried the puck off the right wing boards and fired a low, hard shot at Miller with Dolder parked on the doorstep. As Miller tried to corral the bouncing puck, Dolder fought off two Spartan defensemen and jammed the puck under Miller’s pads for the game-tying goal.
“That’s my kind of goal,” said Dolder.
“I really love to score those grinding goals. There’s nothing like getting crosschecked in the back of the head as the puck goes in the net. Against a great goaltender like Miller, that’s the only kind of goal he is going to give up. Those goals really get me excited and I don’t care how it goes in, as long as it goes in.”
Heading into last weekend’s series at Miami (Ohio), the 23-year old right wing led the Irish in scoring with seven points (four goals, three assists). His offensive output has come as a bit of a surprise to the low-key forward.
I’m a little surprised with the offense I’ve put up so far this year,” says Dolder.
“I always knew I could score, but we have a lot of good offensive players here. To be honest, as long as the team is winning, I don’t care who scores the goals.”
That statement in itself may best sum up where Dolder really excels – the leadership department. Poulin, a former captain in the National Hockey League who has first-hand knowledge of what it takes to be a leader, is quick to point out Dolder’s leadership ability.
“Ryan has always stood out as a leader on this team,” says Poulin.
“He really does it in a combination of ways – he leads by example on the ice and he’s very good in the lockerroom with the team. He’s not afraid to say something when it needs to be said and he’s not afraid to challenge the team. That’s very rare.”
Leading on and off the ice is a key to Dolder’s success as a team leader.
“I think I do a little of both,” says Dolder.
“I would like to say I lead by example because that would mean I was getting things done on the ice. I’m vocal in the lockerroom. I try to pick guys up when they need it. When things need to be said, I’m usually the one who will say them.”
As he heads into the heart of the 2000-01 hockey schedule, Dolder looks back with satisfaction on the decision he made to put down the golf clubs and pick up his hockey stick again to come to Notre Dame.
“I wouldn’t change anything that’s happened to me in the last four years,” says Dolder whose younger brother Kyle is a freshman member of this year’s team.
“Basically, these four years are something I never dreamed could happen. It really has been better than I could ever imagine. I wouldn’t change anything. I’ve had a great opportunity here from the school experience to the guys on the team. These guys are my best friends. No, I wouldn’t change a thing.”
The six-foot, 195-pound forward is also quick to credit his parents, Tom and Carol, for what has happened over the last four years.
“My mom and dad helped me decide to come to Notre Dame and they’ve always been very supportive, especially when things weren’t going well,” says Dolder.
“My dad only missed four games last year and says he’s not going to miss any this season. He really takes pride in not missing the games. My mom works for Northwest (Airlines) now so that will make it easier, and with Kyle here, they’ll have less traveling to do. I never take it for granted that my mom and dad make it to so many games. I always try to see where they are sitting, I have to see where they are before the game starts. It’s just something I’ve always done.”
Dolder hopes to get a chance to keep playing hockey after his collegiate career is over, but he has that in perspective, too.
“Sure, I would like to keep playing hockey,” saiys Dolder who currently owns a 71-game consecutive games played streak.
“If I get the opportunity, that would be great, if not, I’ll just move on to something else. I don’t have a problem with that.”
Of course, there’s always golf. The mention of his other favorite sport brings a smile to Dolder’s face.
“My golf game has definitely suffered, it’s really gone downhill,” says Dolder with a laugh.
“Hockey is the most important thing right now. When I’m done playing, I’ll have plenty of time to fix all the problems with my golf game.”