by Greg Touney
Somehow, the term “defenseman” just doesn’t seem adequate enough for seniors Tom Galvin, Neil Komadoski and Brett Lebda.
Don’t take it the wrong way. The three blueliners know how to take care of their jobs at the defensive end of the ice. But when you add in their offensive prowess and leadership capabilities, you come to realize that the seniors are three of the most valuable assets that Notre Dame hockey coach Dave Poulin has on his 2003-04 team.
Galvin, Komadoski and Lebda have helped solidify Poulin’s team for the past three years and each of the four are on track to win his fourth monogram in as many seasons.
Individually, each has accomplishments that stand alone. In their first three seasons, a different one has led the Irish defensemen in points – Lebda tallied 26 in 2000-01, Galvin racked up 24 during the 2001-02 campaign and Komadoski totaled 24 last year. This year, the points race is tight — Galvin and Komadoski are tied with 18 and Lebda is two back with 16.
As a unit, much of their combined success is a result of their growth together in the program. From the start, the three tried to make an impact.
“This was a good program at the time when we were coming in,” Komadoski recalls about his freshman campaign. “We knew it was going to be a little tough just because they had graduated a lot of seniors when we were coming in and we just wanted to contribute right away and do the best we could.”
Entering the same year and being able to form bonds on the ice for four straight years has been to the advantage of the trio of blueliners, and to the Irish as a whole.
“I think we all work pretty well together,” Lebda says. “Each of us complements each other in a different sort of way, and I think we have a good on-ice relationship – being leaders, playing defense and making sure that everyone takes care of their job when they’re on the ice.”
“We know each other’s tendencies, and we know what one another does,” Komadoski adds. “It’s just a good working atmosphere that when Brett does something or Tommy does something, I know what I have to do and they know what they have to do.”
Smooth playing wasn’t always the case, however, for each of them.
“The first year was kind of rough,” Galvin remembers. “We had some injuries and stuff like that, but with us being freshmen it was a good learning experience.”
If anyone knew about having a rough freshman year, it was definitely Tom Galvin. While diving after a loose puck in practice, Galvin accidentally had a teammate step on his exposed left wrist, cutting his flesh down to the bone and severing all the tendons. Expected to be sidelined for three months, Galvin was ready to practice in less than two and missed only 13 games for the Irish.
After the tough freshman campaign, the gritty Galvin came back with a vengeance for his sophomore season, tallying 23 points and turning into a settling factor for the Irish squad.
Described as “one of the smartest players I’ve ever played with” by Komadoski, Galvin and his skills aren’t lost on his teammates.
Following his freshman year, Komadoski was selected in third round of the NHL Entry draft by the Ottawa Senators.
“He always knows when to get in the play and when to stay back,” Komadoski notes. “He’s not the biggest guy, but he doesn’t let anybody get around him. He’s always playing hard-nosed in our zone and he’s got a great shot.
“All-around he’s a great defenseman – he does it all.”
Neil Komadoski has done his best to also turn himself into an all-around defenseman. During his first two years, the 6-2 defenseman racked up a combined total of 206 penalty minutes, putting him on pace to shatter the record for most penalty minutes in a career for a Notre Dame player (Brett Bruininks holds the record with 331). Last year, however, Komadoski’s penalties dropped, as he closed out his junior campaign with only 46.
“When I came in, I think I was a little reckless, not only with my body, but with my physical play,” Komadoski recalls. “Not so much with just going around and killing people, but I would run myself out of position a lot.
“I think I just realized that if I wanted to contribute offensively and be on the power play and things like that, I had to be on the ice and couldn’t take myself out of the play and be sitting in the box for two to four minutes per game.”
As Komadoski has improved on scaling back his penalty minutes, his work on his offensive game has been clear. His point total increased from 11 his sophomore year to a career-high 24 last year.
His talents haven’t gone unnoticed by scouts, either. Following his freshman year, Komadoski was selected in third round of the NHL Entry draft by the Ottawa Senators.
However, Komadoski’s honors haven’t been strictly on-ice achievements. The Chesterfield, Mo., native represented Notre Dame at the 2003 NCAA Leadership Conference in May and was nominated for college hockey’s Humanitarian Award, given every year to a player for his contributions to society in all areas.
Komadoski has brought that leadership on the ice, too. Before the season. Poulin named his senior defenseman as one of the two alternate captains, and Komadoski’s vocal leadership during games can be plainly seen — or heard. As Galvin puts it, “He’s really loud, so you can always hear him. You know where he is at all times — he never shuts up.”
Perhaps because of the strength of his voice, but even more so because his crushing hits, opponents are normally aware of Komadoski throughout games. Keeping an eye on lightning-quick Brett Lebda, however, is an entirely more difficult proposition.
“(Brett’s) out there and it doesn’t even look like he’s moving — he flies,” Komadoski says of his teammate.
Lebda’s amazing speed and his strong shot make his offensive upside a huge advantage for Notre Dame.
“I think that’s something I’m always counted on to do — to contribute to our offense in the system that we run while not neglecting the defensive side,” Lebda says.
With his assist against Ferris State in Friday’s game, Brett Lebda now has 77 career points.
Coming into the Feb. 13 weekend, Lebda was first among CCHA defensemen with 98 shots. Even more impressive is the fact that that total ranks eighth among all CCHA players. With his assist against Ferris State in Friday’s game, Lebda now has 77 career points, only three away from cracking the top 10 in Notre Dame’s record book for most career points by a defenseman.
Over the past four years, Lebda has also worked hard on his defensive skills.
“When I first came in, I was really offensive-minded,” Lebda recalls. “The game in college has really made me look towards my defensive side of the game.
“I still like to go up offensively but now I just take care of things at my own end a lot more than I did when I came in.”
Even more so than offense, maybe the strongest asset Lebda brings to the Notre Dame table is his consistency. Over his collegiate career, Lebda has missed only four games due to his involvement in the World Junior Championships as a sophomore. Currently, he is tied with senior right wing Rob Globke for the lead in consecutive games played by an active player with 90.
Off the ice, the three defensemen have formed a strong bond, as Komadoski notes.
“We’re pretty tight — the three of us hang together probably the most out of everybody else on the team.”
And after four years, have they gotten tired of each other?
“Not yet — close, but not yet,” Komadoski says with a laugh.
Before last weekend’s two-game series against Ferris State, each of the three put forth the goal of winning as many of the six remaining games as possible. With the two-game sweep of Ferris State, the team has made strides towards completing that goal.
Some of the more impressive plays made by the Irish in the two Ferris State games were from the three defensemen. Either Galvin, Lebda or Komadoski had a hand in five of the eight Irish goals scored over the weekend. Especially notable was Saturday’s matchup, which marked Galvin’s first goal of the year and Komadoski’s first multi-goal game of his career. In addition, both Galvin and Komadoski had their first three-point games of their careers
As of Feb. 15, the Irish sit in sixth place in the CCHA. A sixth-place-or-higher finish guarantees Notre Dame home ice for the best-of-three opening round of the CCHA tournament. The six first-round winners of those series travel to Joe Louis Arena in Detroit for the CCHA Super Six tournament, a trip that Notre Dame has taken three out of the past four years.
“We’ve done really well non-conference-wise beating ranked teams, but we need to take care of things in-house and in the conference and get on a roll when the playoffs start,” Komadoski says. “Hopefully, we’ll get past the first round and get back to Joe Louis.”
With the three Irish senior defensemen doing their best to drive the team, these hopes may soon be realized once more.