July 28, 1998
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – The Philadelphia Flyers have signed Notre Dame sophomore-to-be defenseman Mark Eaton (Wilmington, Del.) to a three-year free agent contract, as announced today by Flyers president and general manager Bob Clarke.
Eaton, the 1997-98 Central Collegiate Hockey Association rookie of the year, went undrafted as a 19-year-old in 1996 and again in ’97 and thus maintained a free-agent status when he began his career at Notre Dame. His freshman season totals included 12 goals, 17 assists and 32 penalty minutes in 41 games. The 6-2 lefthander also has boosted his weight from 185 to 205 pounds over the past year, adding strength and lean muscle mass.
Eaton’s 29 points ranked fourth among all Notre Dame players and third among defensemen in the 11-team CCHA. He helped the Irish set records for goals-against average (2.74) and save percentage (.898) while playing a key role in the best Irish season penalty-killing percentage (.843) since 1975. Eaton also ranked second on the Irish squad in plus-minus (+13) and power-play goals (7) while running the point on a power-play unit that improved its percentage from .127 in 1996-97 to .176 in ’97-’98.
Prior to the loss of Eaton, Notre Dame was set to return all seven of its primary defenseman and backup goaltender Forrest Karr from the talented 1997-98 defensive unit. The 1998-99 Irish defense will welcome highly-regarded freshman Sam Cornelius (Edina, Minn.) while junior-to-be Andy Jurkowski could return to the defense, after playing primarily left wing as a sophomore and both positions as a freshman.
Six current members of the Notre Dame hockey team have been drafted by NHL teams, who maintain their rights until graduation (years based on 1998-99 status): senior left wing Aniket Dhadphale, senior right wing Brian Urick, junior right wing Joe Dusbabek, junior center Ben Simon, sophomore defenseman Ryan Clark and sophomore forward Jay Kopischke.
Two other current players-sophomore-to-be left wing Dan Carlson and incoming freshman center Brett Henning-are among 44 invitees to the upcoming USA junior national team camp.
Three 1998 graduates- of the Notre Dame program–center Lyle Andrusiak (free agent), goaltender Matt Eisler (free agent) and center Steve Noble (St. Louis Blues draft pick)-currently are pursuing their careers in professional hockey.
EATON NOTES: Became the second Notre Dame player to be named conference rookie of the year in the program’s 30-year modern era, following in the footsteps of eventual All-American center Brian Walsh (Cambridge, Mass.), who was named Western Collegiate Hockey Association rookie of the year in 1973-74 … Dusbabek was runner-up to Western Michigan defenseman Darryl Andrews in voting for the 1996-97 CCHA rookie of the year … Eaton edged Ohio State G Jeff Maund, receiving 64 voting points to Maund’s 62 … both players received five first-place votes, with MSU forward Rustyn Dolyny receiving the other … Eaton’s 29 points during 1997-98 tied him with his linemate, junior Benoit Cotnoir, for third among all CCHA defensemen, behind Miami senior Dan Boyle (14G-26A) and Ferris State senior Brett Colborne (7G-30A) … Eaton totaled a team-best 18 points on the road–including a pair of first goals in the playoff series at Michigan .. his 12 goals are the seventh-most ever by an Irish defenseman and most since ’86 … Eaton totaled 19 points in the final 16 games, highlighted by a four-point game at Alaska-Fairbanks (2G-2A) and four goals in six games vs. eventual national champion Michigan (including three at UM’s Yost Ice Arena) … he is Notre Dame’s third CCHA all-rookie selection, following F Jamie Ling (’93) and Dusbabek … Eaton also received the third-most votes for the CCHA’s best offensive defenseman award, behind Boyle and Ferris State senior Brett Colborne (47).
FLYERS GM BOB CLARKE: “This is a top signing for the Flyers. We feel that Mark was the best free agent coming out of college this year. He’s young, he’s got size and lots of offensive talent. He is a great skater and is great with the puck. He just needs some experience. We think he is going to be a terrific player. … He’ll play with the (American Hockey League’s Philadelphia) Phantoms, at least at the start. Like any young player, he’ll have to learn the pro game and get used to play against bigger, stronger men.”
MARK EATON: “I’m very excited. This is something a young person works for all their lives. … Going into last year, I was not expecting to have that year I did. I didn’t expect this at all–I just wanted to be an impact player. As the season went on, playing under coach Poulin, I learned a lot and developed a lot. I stepped up to the competition level and things worked out pretty well. … Playing for coach Poulin was the best thing that could have happened for me. I learned a lot from him and owe him a lot. … I played for the Little Flyers growing up. That’s something that any youngster wants to do–it’s as close as you can get to being a Flyer. … (The chance to play in Philadelphia) will be great. I have a lot of friends and family in the area who will be able to come and watch me.”
NOTRE DAME HEAD COACH DAVE POULIN: “As a coaching staff, an experience like this leaves you with mixed feelings. We are extremely excited for Mark and have no doubt that he is going to have a long career in hockey. But this also is a tough loss for our program, based on Mark’s quality of play, the role he played and the timing of this. … Mark had a terrific freshman year in the CCHA and is a very skilled player with a tremendous upside. We fully support his decision. Mark wants to play pro hockey and is going to do it. … This is a very difficult situation in terms of the timing, because we can’t try to replace a player like Mark until a year from now. You can never prepare for a player to come in and turn pro after his freshman year. … This shows the increased stature of college hockey, if a team is willing to go after a top freshman like Mark. This is a pretty strong statement for the current level of college hockey. … Our assistant coaches, Tom Carroll and Andy Slaggert, did an excellent job recruiting Mark. They had a very accurate and early appraisal of Mark’s talent and upside. Combined with our recent draft picks, this is another indication of the type of player we are recruiting now. … Mark’s departure will present a great opportunity for some of the other defensemen. Guys will just have to elevate their games. We still have a lot of players coming back to the blueline and are excited about our defense for the coming season.”