March 12, 2003
Notre Dame, Ind. –
By Tim Connor
For Notre Dame senior defenseman Evan Nielsen, the beat goes on. Night in, night out, the Irish captain comes to play.
A constant in the Irish lineup for his entire career, the veteran blueliner passed former captain Ryan Dolder (1997-01) school record for consecutive games (103) when he played in his 104th game in a row at Bowling Green on Feb. 15.
That streak has grown to 110 in a row for Nielsen has he and his teammates prepare for the first round of the CCHA playoffs when they travel to Oxford, Ohio to face the Miami RedHawks. The big defenseman hasn’t missed many games in his career.
“I’ve been lucky to miss only three games in my career,” says Nielsen.
“I haven’t taken too many shots off my feet and I’ve stayed away from injuries. That’s a testament to our strength and conditioning program we have with Ken Croner and our trainer Doug Boersma. There have been times when I’ve been a little dinged up, but they’ve done a great job keeping me in the lineup.
Over the course of his career, Nielsen has also been one of the most consistent players in the Irish lineup. For his career, Nielsen has 16 goals and 50 assists for 66 points and is a solid +10 over 152 games.
As a player, he has matured both defensively and as a leader since his Irish career began in September of 1999.
“I think that over four years, the biggest improvements in my game have come in the areas of poise and patience and mental toughness,” says Nielsen.
“When you come in as a freshman, you have to get acclimated to the speed and skill level of the players. It takes awhile to realize that sometimes you have an extra second to take that extra look or take a better shot or make a better pass. I know that I have improved there.”
“He continued, “Coach Poulin has worked a lot with me and my mental toughness, Everyone gets frustrated. Things don’t always go the way you want them to. You can’t get down on yourself. You have to learn to work through those things and be ready for the next shift.”
Evan Nielsen is just the 10th player in Notre Dame history to serve as team captain for two seasons.
One of Nielsen’s strengths are his leadership skills. One of just 12 players in Notre Dame hockey history to serve two seasons as captain, the Evanston, Ill., native has seen his role as team leader grow each season.
“I think that I have grown as a leader every year in one way or another,” says Nielsen.
“I’m still learning every day. That’s an area that I’m proud of and think that I’ve gotten better dealing with each season. We are fortunate on this team to have our leadership come from a lot of different guys. Everyone chips in their own way. That takes the pressure off me.”
The Irish roared down the stretch winning six of their last eight games to move into a three-way tie for fifth place in the league with Northern Michigan and Miami. The Irish finished in seventh losing out on tiebreakers to both teams, thus they start the playoffs on the road.
Notre Dame has fared well on the road in recent years upsetting Nebraska-Omaha last season in the first round of the CCHA playoffs and the Irish were 8-8-2 away from the Joyce Center this season.
The late-season surge offset an 0-6-3 record during January for the Irish. Head coach Poulin credited his leaders for holding the team together and righting the ship with the weekend sweep at Bowling Green.
Nielsen credits the entire team for staying positive over the January slump.
“During the slump, as a team, we knew we were close. We lost some hard-fought games where a bounce here or there turns the game our way. We just tried to stay loose and have fun. This team plays best when its loose and having a good time,” explains Nielsen.
While his Notre Dame career is in its final weeks, Nielsen has no problem singling out the highlights of his Irish hockey career.
In four seasons with the Irish, Evan Nielsen has played in 152 games with 16 goals and 50 assists for 66 points on the blueline.
“I’ll have a lot of fond memories when I graduate. On the ice, making it to Joe Louis Arena as a freshman was a big highlight for me. There was scoring a late breakaway goal against Bowling Green as a sophomore for the winning goal and then getting another one the next week versus Michigan,” says Nielsen.
“Beating Michigan at Michigan this year was big and of course winning the playoff series at Omaha last March would also have to go on my list.”
More importantly, says Nielsen are the friendships he’ll take from Notre Dame.
“I can’t say enough about how lucky I’ve been to play with the guys who have been my teammates. They’ve changed over the four years, but every group has been great. I’ve made great friendships and had a lot of fun during my time here,” says the Irish blue line leader.
Hockey will continue for Nielsen after his playing days in South Bend. An eighth-round draft choice of the Atlanta Thrashers in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft, Nielsen has already had a taste of the pro game. He’s attended Atlanta’s rookie camps for the past two summers and has a good feel for the pro game.
“Attending Atlanta’s camp the last two summers has been a great experience for me as a player. You get a chance to gauge yourself against the other players in the organization and see what it’s like to play hockey for a career,” says Nielsen.
“I think I did pretty well there. I went in well prepared and got a chance to see the level of play. I look forward to doing it again this summer.”
One aspect of a college hockey player’s career that fans don’t realize is the support they get from their families. Nielsen is quick to point out that his parents -Dana and Rosemary Nielsen – have seen him play in just about every game of his career. So their Notre Dame careers also will soon end.
“I don’t know what my mom and dad are going to do when I’m done playing here,” says Nielsen with a smile.
“I know that when each season ends here they have hockey withdrawal. I’m sure they will figure out a way to get to wherever I’m at next year to catch a few games.”