Sept. 24, 1999
SOUTH BEND, Ind. —The Notre Dame hockey team enters the 1999-2000 season driven by the memories of its recent seasons, encouraged by the successes while motivated by the near-misses and tough lessons.
In a sport where a team’s final loss can prove overly agonizing, the Irish have ended each of the past three seasons with an empty feeling, despite many successes along the way.
In 1997, a disappointing late-season swoon dropped Notre Dame out of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association playoff picture. A year later, the Irish headed to Michigan for a CCHA playoff series and had the Wolverines on the ropes before falling 4-3 in the decisive third game.
Most recently, the 1998-99 team spent most of the season ranked in the national top 10 and played host to a playoff series versus Northern Michigan, which handed the Irish a tough 3-2 loss in game three. When the NCAA bids were announced one week later, that playoff series proved to be the deciding factor that secured an NCAA invitation for NMU while the Irish season came to an end.
|Senior defensemen Nathan Borega and Tyson Fraser (below) have skated together in 66 career games.|
“We have shown clear progress and our goal remains winning the NCAA title,” says fifth-year Irish head coach Dave Poulin. “Of course, one of the first steps to winning a title is qualifying for the NCAAs, which stands as a fundamental goal for the coming season.”
The Irish return several of the principal parts from a 1998-99 team that went 19-14-5 overall and finished fourth in the CCHA. The team’s top scorer returns in senior captain Ben Simon, who totaled 18 goals and 24 assists as a junior center and has averaged nearly a point per game during his Irish career (31 goals, 67 assists in 104 games).
Three of the top five scorers from 1998-99 were lost to graduation, but the Irish are set to return eight other players who totaled 10-plus points in that breakthrough season.
Notre Dame is one of several CCHA teams looking to replace valuable players, but the Irish may face the toughest task in terms of replacing quality performers at four different positions.
The eight players lost to graduation include right wing and team captain Brian Urick (16G-25A in ’98-’99), left wing power-play ace Aniket Dhadphale (18-11), All-America defenseman Benoit Cotnoir (7-18) and record-setting goaltender Forrest Karr, who played 94 percent of the minutes while posting an Irish-record 2.58 goals-against average.
Urick, Dhadphale and Cotnoir combined to score nearly 40 percent of Notre Dame’s goals in ’98-’99 while factoring in one-third of the total offense. On the other side of the ice, Karr opened all 38 games in his first season as the Irish starting goaltender en route to Academic All-America honors, wins over perennial powers Wisconsin, North Dakota and Michigan and an Irish record 2.82 career GAA.
In addition to their senior accomplishments, Urick, Dhadphale and Cotnoir ranked among the top Irish players for their entire careers and will be remembered as three of the most accomplished classmates in the history of Notre Dame hockey (they totaled 146 career goals and 173 assists in 430 combined games). Urick logged 146 games while totaling 126 points and tying Poulin’s Irish record with 13 career game-winning goals. Dhadphale’s 105 career points included 25 power-play goals, good for fifth in the Irish record book. And Cotnoir departed as the ninth-highest scoring defenseman in the program’s history (28 goals, 60 assists).
|Sophomore center David Inman will be looking to cash in his tremendous upside.|
Helping to counteract the loss of the class of ’99 is one of the nation’s top freshman classes, a seven-player group that includes four players who spent time with the USA Developmental Program, another who was invited to train with the USA but elected to return to his east-coast boarding school, and the top goaltender in the competitive United States Hockey League during 1998-99.
“These players complete a string of four straight classes that have added tremendous talent to our program. We have some pretty serious holes to fill due to graduation, and the newcomers should be up to the challenge of adjusting to Division I hockey,” said Poulin, who has seen six of his Irish players selected in the National Hockey League draft during the past three seasons.
“At the same time, even though the incoming players have experienced success at a high level, they alone will not be responsible for replacing our graduated players. First and foremost, we anticipate that all of our returning players will elevate their games, with the newcomers also playing an important role in our continuing goal of progressing as a program.”
Simon, who was named second team all-CCHA as a junior, clearly is the marquee returner for the Irish in 1999-2000, but a handful of other players could emerge as difference makers. Those stars-in-waiting include junior left wings Dan Carlson and Chad Chipchase and sophomore centers David Inman and Brett Henning. The Irish also will need to compensate for the loss of Urick’s 41 points at right wing, where physical senior Joe Dusbabek and speedy junior Matt Van Arkel will be looking to post the top seasons of their careers.
Defensively, seniors Nathan Borega, Tyson Fraser and Sean Molina lead a veteran contingent at the blue line while promising sophomore Jeremiah Kimento is the leading candidate to fill Karr’s pads between the pipes.
“We have plenty of talent at every position, it’s just a matter of guys stepping forward,” said Poulin. “There’s no question this season has the potential to be a very exciting and memorable one.”
Despite the loss of Dhadphale and Urick, Notre Dame’s offense could be the deepest in team history, with nine of the current Irish forwards having NHL draft status and/or experience with USA Hockey on their playing resume. In fact, the Irish could face an interesting predicament in 1999-2000, as Simon combines with Inman, sophomore Brett Henning and freshman Connor Dunlop to form a talented crowd at center.
|Right wing Joe Dusbabek will be looking to close his career with a big senior year.|
“With four quality centers, we may have to shift someone to the wing,” explains Poulin. “It’s a nice dilemma to have and we will do what’s best for the team.”
Following the departure of Michigan State’s Mike York and Ohio State’s Hugo Boisvert, Simon (Shaker Heights, Ohio) enters 1999-2000 as arguably the top returning forward in the CCHA.
As a junior, the clever playmaker elevated his scoring touch by totaling 18 goals, more than the combined total from his freshman (four) and sophomore (nine) seasons. Most importantly, many of his team-best 42 points came at crucial junctures, including two game-winning goals, seven game-winning assists and game-tying goals versus both Michigan and Michigan State.
“Ben is quite possibly the most exciting player in college hockey, because of his speed, creativity and ability to come through in the clutch,” says Poulin of Simon, who was a fifth-round draft choice of the Chicago Blackhawks in 1997 and was a two-year member of the USA junior national team.
“Ben continues to grow as a player, both on and off the ice, and has developed into a dynamic player with excellent all-around skills. And the great part is that he still has a huge upside.”
The 6-1, 190-pound Inman (Toronto, Ont.) rates as one of the top young players in the CCHA and was a second-round New York Rangers draft pick in ’99, due more to his talent upside than his freshman-year stats (10 goals, 10 assists, team-high 74 penalty minutes). Inman centered the second line for most of ’98-’99 and had moments of brilliance in which he showcased his great vision, strong skating ability and a rifle shot.
Henning (Huntington, N.Y.), a ninth-round pick of the New York Islanders in ’99, also turned in a solid freshman season, totaling four goals and six assists as primarily the third-line Irish center.
|Senior defenseman Sean Molina owns a team-best 108 career games played and is coming off the most productive season of his career.|
Senior Troy Bagne rounds out the group of veteran centers and also has experience playing on both wings, with 99 career games played.
Dunlop (St. Louis, Mo.), the son of 11-year NHL veteran Blake Dunlop, is known as a dynamic center who could step into the Irish lineup and contribute in all situations. The 5-10, 185-pound lefthander totaled 46 goals and 56 assists in two seasons (136 games) with the U.S. Developmental Program, including 23 goals and 42 assists over the course of 70 games in 1998-99.
The Irish appear capable of trying to fill Dhadphale’s void at left wing, particularly if Simon or Henning slide over from their center spot. Three juniors, Carlson (Edina, Minn.), Chipchase (Clinton, Ont.) and Jay Kopischke (Alexandria, Minn.), return on the left, with that trio logging 223 combined games during their Irish careers.
The 5-10, 190-pound Carlson, known for blazing speed and surprising strength, will look to boost his goalscoring, after totaling just seven goals (plus 20 assists) as a sophomore. Carlson has the added experience of playing for the USA junior national team in ’98-’99 and again should be a key member of the power-play and penalty-kill units.
Chipchase nearly doubled his point total from his freshman to sophomore seasons, totaling 10 goals and five assists while skating on each of the top three lines. The 6-3, 215-pound Kopischke owns just nine career points in 69 games but will be looking to cash in his vast potential, after being selected in the ’97 NHL draft by the Los Angeles Kings.
The loss of Urick may pose the biggest question at forward, but several players will be looking to step forward with consistent right wing production.
Dusbabek (Faribault, Minn.), a 1997 San Jose Sharks draft pick and member of the ’97-’98 USA junior national team, is a classic power forward, due to his 6-1, 205-pound frame, aggressiveness and scoring ability. The hard-working senior will be hoping to rediscover the magic of his rookie campaign, when he posted 13 goals and 12 assists (he went on to total just five goals and 18 assists over the past two seasons).
Other veteran right wings include Van Arkel (Richton Park, Ill.) and fellow junior Ryan Dolder (Hutchinson, Minn.). The streaky Van Arkel will be looking for more consistent production, particularly in the second half of the season, as just six of his 23 career points have come after New Year’s Day (he totaled eight goals and four assists in ?98-’99).
Dolder has shown an uncanny ability for clutch plays, most of his eight career goals have come in timely fashion, and he could be due for bigger contributions in his third season.
|Sophomore Jeremiah Kimento is part of an inexperienced but talented trio of goaltenders on the 1999-2000 squad.|
Freshmen Michael Chin (Urbana, Ill.) and John Wroblewski (Nennah, Wis.) round out the right wings.
The 6-2, 200-pound Chin spent 1997-98 as a member of the USA developmental program before playing for the potent Des Moines Buccaneers in ?98-’99. Known for his innate scoring ability, great hands and positioning, Chin ranked as the 12th-leading scorer in the United States Hockey League during the 1998-99 regular season and went on to total 29 goals and 34 assists in 66 overall games for the record-setting Buccaneers.
Wroblewski, a 6-1, 200-pound righthander, brings a grinding, power-forward style and could see time at center or wing. As a winger with the USA Developmental Program, he totaled 32 goals and 25 assists in 135 games over the past two seasons, with a team-best 11 power-play goals in ’98-’99.
Despite the loss of Cotnoir, the Irish return a veteran corps of defensemen that includes five seniors who have combined for 401 career games played.
Hard-hitting junior Ryan Clark (Littleton, Colo.) returns from shoulder surgery that sidelined him for the final 24 games of 1998-99 while sophomore Sam Cornelius (Edina, Minn.) will be looking to build on a freshman season that saw him play in 36 of 38 games.
Borega (Wasilla, Alaska) and Fraser (Surrey, B.C.) are the battle-tested leaders of the defense and have skated together in 66 career games. The pair will serve as alternate captains in 1999-2000, the first time since 1974 that two defensemen served as captains or alternate captains for the Irish hockey team.
The 6-2, 225-pound Borega has been a disciplined presence throughout his career, totaling just 60 penalty minutes in 99 career games while not sacrificing his aggressive style.
Fraser’s subtle skills and high value finally were recognized after the ’98-’99 season, when he was one of three finalists for the CCHA’s “top defensive defenseman” award. A gritty player who combines uncanny instincts with timely passes from the blue line, Fraser has totaled 38 career assists while helping the Irish make major defensive improvements during his first three seasons.
Senior defensemen Molina (Skokie, Ill.) and Andy Jurkowski (Madison, Wis.) were two of the unsung heroes in 1998-99 and will help bolster Notre Dame’s deepest position.
Molina, who leads all Irish returners with 108 career games played and could become the third Notre Dame player ever to appear in 150 games, rose to the challenge as a junior, turning in the best season of his career while helping the Irish post a team-record 2.60 goals-against average.
The 6-2, 200-pound Jurkowski was one of four Irish skaters who appeared in all 38 games in ’98-’99 and has been a valuable option in the Irish lineup as both a defenseman and left wing.
Rounding out the five-man contingent of senior defensemen is Sean Seyferth (Ann Arbor, Mich.), who has made valuable contributions while appearing in 34 career games during the past three seasons.
Freshman Evan Nielsen (Evanston, Ill.), who is ranked among the top xxx prospects for the 2000 NHL draft by Red Line Report, is a skilled defenseman and strong skater who honed his skills at The Taft School in Watertown, Conn. The 6-2, 200-pound Nielsen was named the Midwest team MVP at the annual Hockey Night in Boston and had an invitation to join the USA Developmental Program in ’98-’99 but elected to return to Taft.
Another newcomer, Paul Harris (Ridgefield, Conn.), also returns to the Midwest after spending two years in Ann Arbor, Mich., as a member of the USA Developmental Program. A classic stay-at-home defenseman, the 6-2, 200-pounder is a late bloomer who began playing hockey when he was 10 years old.
The leadership and quality of play from the veteran defense could prove crucial, particularly during the challenging early-season schedule, as the three Irish goaltenders have just 148 combined minutes of Division I experience and no career starts between them. But the talented trio should be up to the task.
“We have three talented goaltenders who are more than ready to maintain the great play in the nets that we have had in recent years,” says Poulin.
“The fact that they have limited game experience is of no real concern. Forrest Karr had started just seven games before last year and ended up setting the school record for goals-against average.”
Kimento (Palos Hills, Ill.) posted a 2.61 GAA and .914 save percentage in 138 minutes as a freshman, with his rookie season including several impressive outings. Known for his bulldog-like competitiveness during Irish practices, Kimento shed 20 pounds during the offseason while focusing on his chance to be the Irish starter.
Junior Kyle Kolquist (Duluth, Minn.) provides another veteran option but has made just one brief appearance with the Irish. Known for solid technical ability and a stellar high school career, Kolquist could be up to the challenge of contributing during his third season.
Freshman Tony Zasowski (Darien, Ill.) could challenge for playing time, after being named the USHL’s goaltender of the year with the ’98-’99 Omaha Lancers (which lost to Chin’s Des Moines squad in the Clark Cup final). Zasowski set a USHL record for regular-season wins (35-11, five shutouts), plus a league-best 1.96 GAA and a .913 save percentage while playing in front of an average home crowd of nearly 6,000 fans.
Notre Dame’s home schedule includes a pair of early games versus Michigan, during the week of the Arizona State football game (Thur., Oct. 7, Fri. Oct. 8). The Irish also will play host to Miami during the week of the Navy football game (Thur., Oct. 28, Fri., Oct. 29). Other home opponents include Michigan State (Dec. 4, March 3), Massachusetts (Dec. 10-11) and Princeton (Dec. 19-20).
The road schedule includes a pair of conference games at Michigan State (Dec. 5, March 4) and Ohio State (Feb. 4-5), a series at new CCHA member Nebraska-Omaha (Nov. 5-6) and the long trip to Alaska Fairbanks (Jan. 28-29).
The Irish will play several noteworthy tournaments, including two at the University of Denver: the Ice Breaker Tournament (Oct. 15-16), with a tough opening game versus Providence, and the Norwest Denver Cup (Dec. 31-Jan. 1), with defending national champ Maine and perennial power Colorado College. Notre Dame will spend Thanksgiving weekend in the northeast, with games at the University of New Hampshire versus UNH and Vermont (Nov. 27-28).