Dec. 2, 1999
by Pete LaFleur
Notre Dame sophomore center David Inman is “learning on the job” as he continues to mold what most National Hockey League insiders consider to be a tremendous talent upside. And as the second-round selection of the New York Rangers in 1999, Inman could someday bring his burgeoning skills to Madison Square Garden.
Inman was projected as a possible first-rounder but slipped to the Rangers with the 59th overall pick.
“At times, it felt kind of disappointing but I realized that the draft is just one step to playing professional hockey some day,” says Inman. “For now, making the most out of my Notre Dame career is the most important thing. I had the chance to meet some of the Rangers coaches and general managers. It was a great experience and a real thrill.
“I tried to come in with an open mind and realized things were out of my control. It was tough to sit and wait and it would have been a great thing to have been drafted in the first round and go up to the stage. But I’m still going to make the most of my opportunity and I was drafted by a great organization.”
Inman became the first Notre Dame hockey player ever selected in the first two rounds of an NHL draft, with four previous Irish players selected in the third round
Selection by the Rangers held extra significance for Inman, who was born in New York City and owns joint citizenship in both Canada and the United States. His mother Straughn, a native of West Virginia, and father Ron met while students at Yale University. The Inman family lived in Manhattan until David was three years old, before moving to Toronto.
“It’s kind of interesting that I could end up where my life started, back in New York City,” says Inman, who has two current Irish teammates-defenseman Ryan Clark and center Brett Henning-that have been drafted by the crosstown rival New York Islanders. “I love New York City and the Rangers are one of the original six (NHL teams), so I feel real honored that they selected me.”
Inman is a major part of a four-year process that has seen the Notre Dame program-which returned to the CCHA from club status just seven years ago-rise to a place among the nation’s top programs. Notre Dame spent most of the 1998-99 season among the national top 10, finished fourth in the rugged Central Collegiate Hockey Association and came just shy of making the program’s first appearance in the NCAA Championship. And with 18 returning letterwinners joining a heralded freshman class, Inman and the Irish could take things to another level in 1999-2000.
“I’m very excited for the upcoming season and have high expectations of myself” says Inman, who is part of a 1999-2000 group of Notre Dame forwards that includes nine players who have been drafted and/or played for USA Hockey. “I did a bunch of interviews with NHL teams and improving my consistency and intensity were discussed-and those are things that will come with experience.
“Last season was a really good stepping stone for me and I’ve got to put it in perspective and look to help the Irish do even better this season. The experience and lessons that I learned as a freshman and during this draft process should help push to be a player that my teammates can rely on.”
Inman is known as a physically-gifted center who could be due for a breakthrough season in 1999-2000, as evidenced by his team-leading four games through the first six games of the young season. His physical attributes include a 6-1, 205-pound frame (he added 15 pounds in the offseason), great vision on the ice, strong skating ability and a rifle shot.
Inman had a solid-but not spectacular-freshman year, serving as primarily the second-line center while being named to the seven-player CCHA all-rookie team. As one of four Irish players to skate in all 38 games in 1998-99, he finished sixth on team with 20 points (10G-10A) while racking up a team-high 74 penalty minutes.
“I had some small individual successes during my freshman year, but I didn’t have near the consistency that I should have shown,” says Inman. “I’m not overly disappointed with the way things went. It’s not a big worry, because I learned a lot an know what I have to work on.”
Inman’s freshman-year highlights included a goal and an assist in Notre Dame’s stunning 4-3 win at top-ranked and defending NCAA champion North Dakota. He also came through at the end of the season, with home ice for the CCHA playoffs on the line, by scoring in both games of a series at Miami to earn CCHA rookie-of-the-week honors.
Prior to joining the Irish, Inman led the Wexford (Ontario) Raiders to the 1998 Metro League title and a runner-up finish to the Milton Merchants in the Provincial League finals. He was named a 1998 Metro League all-star, after leading the Raiders in overall goals (51 in 53 games, plus 69 assists), playoff goals (15, in 16 games) and playoff assists (25).
Inman-whose primary youth teams included the Raiders and the Toronto Marlboros-conceivably could have pursued athletics in another sport, if his family had remained in New York instead of moving to Toronto in 1983.
“If I had grown up in New York, I would have been an athlete, but probably not a hockey player,” says Inman, who was three years old when he joined his parents and two sisters in heading north of the border, where he began playing hockey as a six-year-old.
“In Canada, it seems like every little community has hockey programs, so it was only natural that I started playing. It’s a big thing to get involved in the national sport.”
Inman has positioned himself as a leading candidate for Academic All-America honors, after posting a 3.60 grade-point average in both semesters of his challenging freshman year (he intends to major in business). Academic excellence has become a hallmark of the Notre Dame hockey program, which has produced an Academic All-American during each of the previous seasons while the six-member 1999 senior class averaged a 3.30 cumulative GPA.
Inman’s decision to pursue a college hockey career in the United States was impacted by several factors.
“My parents both went to school in the states, so I was always inclined that way from the start,” he says. “I also had experienced the idea at an early age, because we had several family friends who had played at schools in the states. I also had seen some games at Michigan and Michigan State and was attracted to the excitement of hockey in the CCHA.”
Inman was drafted by the Guelph Storm of the Ontario Hockey League and had preliminary discussions with the team.
“I knew some guys who went that route, because it’s quicker to the NHL,” says Inman. “But I also realized that I wanted to go to college. I wanted to get a great education and just take in the whole college experience.”
Inman’s current college experience includes living in a three-room, seven-man “suite” in Morrissey Hall. None of his six roommates is a hockey player-they aren’t even varsity athletes-and that’s just fine with Notre Dame’s star-in-waiting.
“I guess I had pictured myself living with guys on the hockey team, but I practically live with them anyway we spend so much time together during the season,” says Inman.
“It’s always great to go back to the dorm, because it’s a different environment here. It’s good to meet people from all over and it’s all about learning from other people, things like how they manage their time and lead their lives.”
Inman also has gained an added appreciation for the excitement that comes with playing college hockey. “A big part of the game is that it’s just not a bunch of fans, but there are students too,” he says. ” It’s a different atmosphere and you have a lot of pride playing for your school.
“We had an awesome win at home last year over Michigan and the crowd was great. We showed that we can compete with those teams and we hope to have that atmosphere even more this year.”
Due to his mother’s status as a United States citizen, Inman holds dual citizenship and is one of four current Notre Dame players who are in the mix for the 1999-2000 USA team that will compete in the World Junior Championship. He was one of the final two forwards cut from the 1998-99 team but returned to the team’s tryout camp held in Lake Placid during the summer of ’99.
“I never had been contacted by Canada to play with their junior team, so I had kept in touch with the USA program so that they knew I had U.S. citizenship,” explains Inman, whose fellow Irish forwards Ben Simon, Joe Dusbabek and Dan Carlson have combined to play on the last three USA junior national teams. “Attending the tryout camps has been a great experience and it has helped develop my overall game. I’d love to play in the World Juniors this year-it would be a really beneficial experience for me.”
As Inman looks ahead to his future, he remains focused on not dwelling on the small setbacks in his past.
“I’ve had my share of successes and disappointments over my early career,” he says. “The draft really helped put things in perspective: no matter what you have behind you, all you can do is progress and get better. It’s all about learning and developing.”
That’s what Notre Dame-and the Rangers-are banking on for years to come.