Jan. 19, 2003
Notre Dame, Ind. –
By Tim Connor
When the Notre Dame Fighting Irish return to action this weekend versus the Yale Bulldogs they will do it in a unique home series. On Friday night, the Irish play at the Joyce Center while Saturday’s “home” game will be played at Chicago’s Allstate Arena.
With five players from the state of Illinois who either grew up or played hockey in the Chicago area, the visit to the “Windy City” will be a homecoming of sorts.
One player looking forward to Saturday’s tilt is senior goaltender Tony Zasowski. For the Darien, Ill., it will be his first hockey appearance in his hometown in over eight years.
“I’m very excited about getting a chance to play in front of my family and friends,” said Zasowski following last weekend’s trip to Ferris
“For guys like myself, Brett Lebda and Evan Nielsen who left home to play hockey, we’ve never had a chance to play in Chicago. Being associated with Notre Dame in Chicago means a lot. I think my mom and dad have a whole section of friends and family coming to the game.”
Zasowski got his hockey start at a young age playing on neighborhood ponds and he has always been a goalie.
His organized hockey path started with the Downers Grove Huskies at age six. He played there until he moved on to play for Team Illinois when he was 13. Triple A hockey was next as he moved on to the Chicago Young Americans where the game became the major focus of his life.
“I decided to play AAA hockey instead of high school because the level of competition was better and there were more games. Playing for the Young Americans really helped my development. We played in a Detroit-based league, so every weekend we were traveling. We played 60-70 games per year,” explains Zasowski
Following his junior year of high school, Zasowski made the decision to take his game to Canada as his commitment to hockey grew. He spent his final year in Lindsey, Ont., with the Lindsey Muskies.
After a year in Canada, the 24-year old puckstopper moved on to the United States Hockey League where he played a year with the Green Bay Gamblers and two years with the Omaha Lancers.
His Green Bay team won the Junior A national championship in 1996-97 and in 1998-99, he led Omaha to the Clark Cup finals. With Omaha in ’98-’99, Zasowski was the USHL’s goaltender of the year while compiling a league-best 1.96 goals-against average and a 35-11 record.
“Playing three years in the USHL was important for me,” says Zasowski.
“I was able to mature as a goaltender and I think that’s something that a goaltender needs. There are lots of games so you learn to bounce back from a bad game quickly. You learn to push yourself to get better. I was lucky to play for two good teams, so I learned about putting the team first. I also played for two outstanding coaches in Don Granato at Green Bay and Mike Hastings at Omaha.”
When it came time to choose a college Zasowski always knew that Notre Dame would be the place.
“My dad is a big Notre Dame fan and I remember as a kid him telling me how I would look good in a gold helmet someday,” recalls Zasowski.
“Then I remember playing a game in Detroit in 1993 when Notre Dame beat Florida State to become number one in the country. During the game, they talked about all the traditions at Notre Dame and that really got me interested. Later when they started recruiting me at Omaha, it was a no brainer, this is where I wanted to be.”
After joining the Irish, Zasowski was able to fulfill his dad’s wish to see how good he looked in a gold helmet. In following the Notre Dame football tradition, the Irish goaltender had his mask painted with the same gold paint that Notre Dame football helmets are painted with before every home game.
“I got the idea for the mask from what my dad told me as a kid. It gets painted every season before the first home football game at the same time the managers are painting the football helmets. It’s all part of the Notre Dame tradition that I learned from my Dad,” says Zasowski.
With the Irish, Zasowski wasted little time making his mark. As a freshman in 1999-2000, he set the Notre Dame single-season goals-against average mark with a 2.56 average while recording a 13-9-6 record and a .901 save percentage. He led the Irish to the CCHA final weekend for the first time since the 1981-82 season.
“Getting to Joe Louis Arena is the highlight of my career so far. I remember Chad Chipchase coming into the locker room after we won the Ferris State series to tell us we were going to Joe Louis Arena. I’ve never jumped so high. It was the first time I played in an NHL arena and it was great to play a part in helping Notre Dame get back to that level,” says Zasowski.
Since his freshman year, Zasowski’s playing time has dwindled. He struggled as a sophomore and with the emergence of Morgan Cey, he’s become the Irish back up goaltender the last two seasons.
So far this year, he’s played in three games with a 1-1 record and a 4.12 goals against average. He works hard staying ready for when the call comes from Coach Dave Poulin to go into the game.
With his final season of collegiate hockey coming down to its final 14 regular season games, the quiet goaltender is already planning for his future. A management major in the Mendoza College of Business, Zasowski would like to give coaching a try before venturing into the business world.
“I realize that I still want to be associated with hockey in some way and I’d like to get into coaching. I’ve worked at camps in the summer for years and really enjoy the teaching aspect of the game. My dream job would be becoming a college head coach someday,” says Zasowski.
For now Zasowski will enjoy getting a chance to live out his dream this weekend as he finally gets a chance to play the game he loves in front of his hometown fans in Chicago.