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Irish Ice Hockey Improving, Step By Step

Sept. 27, 2000

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Step by step has been the theme of the Notre Dame hockey program during its first five seasons under head coach Dave Poulin, with the most recent step seeing the Irish advance in 2000 to Joe Louis Arena and the Central Collegiate Hockey Association semifinals for the first time since Poulin’s senior season at Notre Dame (1981-82).

That most recent accomplishment certainly qualified as a major step, capping a 16-18-8 season that included a fifth-place showing in the CCHA standings. The Irish have progressed by slowly building a foundation that now includes a succession of five consecutive highly-regarded freshman classes.

With the next logical step including a trip to the CCHA title game and a spot in the NCAA Tournament, the Irish — led by five NHL draft picks and 10 players who have participating with various USA Hockey teams — will look to parlay their growing talent base into greater consistency and a higher victory total … in hopes of securing the program’s first-ever NCAA appearance.

The Irish bid farewell to an accomplished eight-player senior class that included two of the 1999-2000 team’s top three scorers and three of the top seven: center Ben Simon (13G-19A — 32 points), right wing Joe Dusbabek (8-19 — 27) and defenseman Tyson Fraser (3-11 — 14). That threesome also played key roles on the Irish power-play unit, thus opening the door for several veterans and newcomers to become key cogs in the 2000-01 man-up offense. All told, Notre Dame’s 15 returning skaters accounted for two-thirds of the goals and 60 percent of the total offense in 1999-2000.

“Our offense clearly needs more consistency and a wider range of dependable goalscorers,” says Poulin, whose squad returns just three players who posted more than six goals last season.

“We have the talent to achieve those goals and things will revolve around four players — Dan Carlson, Ryan Dolder, David Inman and Connor Dunlop — with several others capable of stepping up with big years.”

Many college hockey powers have retained their status through the efforts of a consistently potent goalscorer.

While several recent Notre Dame players have shown flashes of that type of dominance, no Irish player has come close to the 30-goals-in-a-season plateau since 1990 (Aniket Dhadphale had 25 in 1997-98).

In short, the Irish are due for a benchmark season from at least one of their highly-touted forwards.

Much of the team’s scoring punch revolves around what could be one of the deepest group of centers in the Poulin era, led by the highly-touted Inman — a 1999 second-round pick of the New York Rangers whose 13 goals in 1999-2000 trailed only Carlson’s 17. A strong skater with a devastating shot, the 6-1, 205-pound Toronto native is known for his strong talent upside and could develop into one of the CCHA’s more dominant players in 2000-01.

“Anybody who has seen David play knows the depth of his potential and consistency is simply one of the fundamental things that has held him back during the past two seasons,” said Poulin of Inman, whose sophomore season was interrupted by the World Junior Championship and ended due to a bout with mononucleosis.

“We do lose Ben Simon from the center position but we expect our three veterans to elevate their games significantly as they face greater challenges and heightened responsibility. We also have a promising freshman in Aaron Gill whose transition should be made easier due to the veterans around him at the center position.”

Inman — who had 10G-10A as a freshman — will be hoping to be the latest in a recent trend of Notre Dame forwards who have made huge goalscoring jumps in their junior seasons, with that group including Dhadphale (18 combined goals in his first two seasons, 25 as a junior), Simon (13 in first two years, 18 as a junior) and Carlson (18 in first two seasons, 17 as a junior).

The speedy and highly-skilled Dunlop (St. Louis, Mo.) again should be Notre Dame’s top faceoff man and will be looking to boost his goalscoring, after lighting the lamp just three times as a rookie (plus 13 assists). Dunlop was banged up for much of his rookie season but is coming off a strong offseason in which he competed with the 31-player USA Summer Challenge squad.

Junior Brett Henning (Huntington, N.Y.) — who joined Inman and Dunlop as members of last year’s USA National Junior Team — could see his role expand after playing mostly a defensive role in 1999-2000 (when he had 3G-7A) while Gill (Rochester, N.Y.) brings strong all-around skills to the center position.

The firepower on the wings is for the most part unproven, with the obvious exception of Carlson — who ranks as the CCHA’s No. 6 returning scorer from 1999-2000 (when he nearly reached a 20-20 season, with 17 goals and 18 assists).

Carlson (Edina, Minn.) reported for his senior season in the best shape of his Irish career and will be the squad’s leader on the ice in all situations. The 5-9, 180-pound fireplug is one of the team’s strongest players and combines that power with his speed and nose for the goal to rank as one of the CCHA’s most potent goalscorers for 2000-01.

“I can remember watching Danny play during his high school days and he would just do some amazing things — usually at the most important times,” says Poulin of Carlson, whose five game-winning goals in 1999-2000 included four that came in one-goal games and two clutch scores in overtime sessions.

“We saw those same types of plays from him last season and there’s no reason to think he can’t crank it up a few notches during what should be a great final season for him.”

Other veteran left wings include seniors Chad Chipchase (Clinton, Ont.) and Jay Kopischke (Alexandria, Minn), who combined with Carlson to form a veteran trio at that position. Chipchase was selected as an alternate captain (along with Carlson) despite missing most of his junior season with a knee injury and his defensive play could be crucial as the Irish adjust to their young group of defensemen.

Kopischke — an eighth-round draft pick of the Los Angeles Kings — is a physical presence at 6-3, 210 pounds and turned in some big plays as a junior (6G-5A), hinting at even greater contributions from him in the coming season.

The presence of junior transfer Jon Maruk (Eden Prairie, Minn.) and sophomore Jake Wiegand (Northville, Mich.) gives Notre Dame’s left wing position an impressive 12 combined seasons of Division I experience.

Maruk is known for his gritty play and spent two seasons at Alaska Anchorage before helping the United States Hockey League’s Twin City Vulcans win the 2000 national junior-A hockey title. He also is one of four current Irish players who possess the added intangible factor of being the sons of former National Hockey League players (his father Dennis Maruk played 12 NHL seasons, primarily with the Minnesota North Stars).

Dolder — whose steady improvement included 10 goals and 14 assists as a junior — has fashioned an inspiring story that has seen him rise from a last-minute walk-on from Hutchinson, Minn., to Notre Dame’s team leader and senior captain.

“Ryan Dolder is simply one of those players who keeps striving and striving. He wasn’t even thinking that he’d be playing college hockey but — once he had the chance — he’s definitely made the most of it,” says Poulin.

“His leadership was a crucial part of our success in the second half of last season, because he clearly showed that he was capable of leading in both good and bad situations.”

Senior Matt Van Arkel (4G-1A in 1999-2000) and sophomores Michael Chin (6G-7A) and John Wroblewski (0G-4A) provide more experience on the right wing while 6-2, 200-pound freshman Rob Globke brings his highly-touted offensive skills to the Irish program, after ranking as the third-leading scorer on the U.S. Under-18 National Team (15G-21A).

Van Arkel (Richton Park, Ill.) is one of the team’s quickest skaters and a crafty goalscorer who will be looking for greater production in the second half of the season while the 6-2, 210-pound Chin (Urbana, Ill.) — who was a big-time scorer at the junior hockey level — will be looking to build off his strong finish to the 1999-2000 campaign.

Wroblewski’s value goes beyond the stat sheet, as the former USA Under-18 National Team member and Neenah, Wis., native is the squad’s consummate student of the game who “does so many little things that make us a better team,” according to Poulin.

The Notre Dame defense will look to continue the success of the program’s 1999-2000 blueliners, four of whom have moved on to pursue their options in professional hockey. Ryan Clark (Englewood, Colo.) is the unit’s only senior and the 6-4, 230-pounder again will be expected to set the physical tone.

“This is Ryan’s defense now and it’s a big shift for him and the team, after having four seniors run the show last year, but Ryan made some great strides while being surrounded by those players and he’ll do an excellent job as our most experienced defenseman,” says Poulin.

Junior Sam Cornelius (Edina, Minn.) and sophomore Paul Harris (ridgefield, Conn.) could emerge into key roles among the regular starting six — after playing limited roles on the deep Irish defense last season. In fact, Cornelius — who saw time in 36 of 38 games as a freshman but just 16 last season — could prove to be one of the surprises of Notre Dame’s 2000-01 season and may be a key member of both special-teams units.

Harris has a solid hockey background as a product of the USA Under-18 national program but his freshman season was disrupted by midseason surgery to remove a cyst.

Sophomore Evan Nielsen (Evanston, Ill.) — Notre Dame’s top-scoring defenseman as a rookie (4G-10A) and an eighth-round draft pick of the Atlanta Thrashers — could shoulder many of the roles held by 2000 graduate Fraser, including a possible role as the power-play point man to take advantage of his strong skating and offensive skills.

Freshman Neil Komadoski (Chesterfield, Mo.) could help replace the imposing presence of graduated Nathan Borega (whose 6-2, 225-pound frame likely won’t be missed by opposing CCHA forwards). The 6-1, 215-pound Komadoski — whose father, Neil Sr., played eight seasons in the NHL — made a name for himself as the top enforcer on the USA Under-18 National Team and is considered one of the nation’s top prospects for the 2001 NHL draft.

Two other first-year players — Brett Lebda (Buffalo Grove, Ill.) and Tom Galvin (Miller place, N.Y.) — also should see valuable ice time on the blue line. Lebda, who played alongside Komadoski with the USA program, is known for his smooth skating and offensive ability while Galvin is a steady performer with strong all-around skills.

Sophomore goaltender Tony Zasowski (Darien, Ill.) seized the starting job as a rookie, when his poise and consistency led to the best goals-against average (2.56) in Irish history, plus a .901 save percentage (second-best since ’71).

Junior Jeremiah Kimento (Palos Hills, Ill.) has reported in excellent condition and has the competitive nature to push Zasowski for ice time while senior Kyle Kolquist rounds out the veteran group of Irish netminders.

“We have a lot of confidence in our goaltenders and there should be healthy competition time,” says Poulin.

Notre Dame’s schedule includes a return to the Hall of Fame game (the Irish beat Wisconsin in the ’98 opening game at the Kohl Center), this time with a matchup against Minnesota on Oct. 7 at XCel Energy Center (home to the NHL expansion Minnesota Wild).

The rotating CCHA cluster schedule has yielded four games for the Irish in 2000-01 versus Western Michigan, Ohio State and Miami — with two vs. the other eight squads in the 28-game schedule.

The Irish jetsetters will be back in full force, after a 1999-2000 season that saw Notre Dame traverse nearly 18,000 miles. In addition to tournaments in Omaha, Neb., and Troy, N.Y., the Irish also will play two games versus Yale in New Haven, Conn., while making long CCHA trips to Omaha and Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. (Lake Superior State) — plus the program’s third trip to Fairbanks, Alaska, in the last four seasons.

“The schedule has plenty of challenges — both within the CCHA and in the non-conference portion,” says Poulin, whose squad will renew its growing rivalry with Boston College by facing the Eagles twice in the first five weeks of the season.

“We certainly learned last year that the college hockey season has plenty of ebb and flow to it but we clearly want to perform well in many of these non-conference games and will look to play well within our cluster,” says Poulin.

“When it all comes down to it, your best players have to consistently turn in high-caliber performances and everything else will take care of itself. With experienced players at every position, we feel confident with this group to drop the puck and get the season started.”