Feb. 27, 2014
Notre Dame, Ind. – By Craig Chval `15
Outside expectations were not remarkably high for the 2010-’11 Notre Dame hockey team. Coming off a 13-17-8 season, the Irish were largely an unknown for the upcoming year with a massive and highly talented freshman class of 12 members.
The result was one of the strongest runs in program history: a 25-14-5 record, a second-place finish in the CCHA standings, and the school’s second-ever Frozen Four appearance. Leading the charge was one of those 12 freshmen – a breakout phenom in T.J. Tynan, who wasn’t even supposed to be on the team.
“All summer and all the year before, I thought I was going to go back to Des Moines and the USHL. That was the plan until about a week and a half before school actually started,” says Tynan, now a senior alternate captain.
“I got a call from Coach [Jeff] Jackson, who said one of their guys had signed and they needed another forward just in case they had injuries.”
“I showed up, and the seniors and the other guys took me under their wings and helped me along. I wasn’t really prepared to come to college at that point. They really helped me along with the workouts and the practices and everything. And it ended up being a very successful year for me and obviously for the team making the Frozen Four.”
For a guy who joined the team at the last minute, Tynan did more than just have success. He led the team in scoring with 54 points, the most by an Irish player since 1990 and 10 more than his next highest teammate, fellow freshman Anders Lee. After such a historic year, Tynan admits all he was able to accomplish in that season surprised him.
“I mean, when I first showed up I was really nervous, obviously,” he says.
“A lot of great players were already here, and then I was the new guy that had to come and earn their respect.”
“But I got pretty lucky I got to play with Anders Lee and Bryan Rust for most of my freshman year. And Calle Ridderwall was another one of my linemates. Those are three unbelievable players, and they made my job extremely easy.”
At the end of the season, the Irish raised a Frozen Four banner, and Tynan collected some personal hardware himself. The CCHA Rookie of the Year, he also became the conference’s first National Rookie of the Year and was a second-team all-CCHA selection.
And it wasn’t just the media who took notice of Tynan’s season – the Columbus Blue Jackets selected him in the third round of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. But if success was the theme of Tynan’s freshman campaign, he learned about adversity the following year.
“Freshman year everyone had success right away, and maybe we thought that it would be like that every year. And obviously it’s not that way,” he explains.
“Coach said after that year that it was a missed opportunity for us because we had so much talent. That was probably the most talented team I’ve ever played on.”
“That was obviously the most unsuccessful year that we’ve had here at Notre Dame. You have to outwork your opponent every game in order to have success no matter how much talent you do have on your team.”
Notre Dame failed to make the NCAA tournament for only the second time since 2007, finishing the season with a 19-18-3 record. Tynan was a first team all-CCHA choice and finished in a tie for the CCHA scoring title while leading the Irish in scoring. Along the way, he learned the importance of an all-around game in a disappointing year for the team.
“I think for me it was just taking on a bigger role defensively,” he explains.
“[Freshman year] I didn’t really have to play against the other teams’ top lines ever, but sophomore year I did because they were matching up against Anders and myself. And just getting to play defense every game, I think that was big for me.”
“I just realized that I needed to be a two-way player. It’s not just about offense, just about getting points and goals. It’s about doing what it takes to win games.”
Becoming a solid two-way skater was more easily said than done for Tynan, who is the smallest Irish player at 5-9, 165 pounds. When going up against opponents in the defensive zone, he couldn’t have the same approach as, say, a Stephen Johns.
“I’ve been undersized my entire career, so I just figured out I have to be quicker than them,” Tynan explains.
“Obviously, bigger guys have an advantage on me, but if I can just outsmart them, I think that’s how I’m going to have success in the D-zone and the O-zone.”
He finds success by “just not being overly aggressive. Obviously, if you go for a hit or get out of position, they can use their body to just go around you or get in front of the net before you.”
“I think just playing off their weaknesses – knowing when to go into the corner and when to back off, let them turn and then strip the puck, or try to hit them. But I think just being smart positioning-wise is the biggest thing for sure.”
While adding to his game despite never reaching the levels of production of his rookie season, Tynan helped lead the Irish to a rebound campaign in 2013. With a 25-13-3 record, Notre Dame finished second in the CCHA and won the last ever CCHA tournament.
Tynan won the conference’s final tournament MVP Award with a goal and two assists.
“It was unbelievable. It was definitely my top experience here at Notre Dame,” he describes.
“Obviously winning the championship, but just seeing how much hard work our team put in from the spring of the previous year all the way through. Winning something that big with my best friends and just looking around the room and seeing how happy everyone was and just knowing how much work you had to put in to win – that was a great experience for all of us.”
After the conference tournament, the Irish earned a one-seed in the NCAA tournament, but were bounced in the first round by St. Cloud State. Tynan and his teammates learned a valuable lesson in the process for his class’s one last playoff push.
“You want to enjoy it and savor the memories, but the biggest thing is switching gears and realizing that that’s over,” he says.
“Realizing you have an even bigger game this week coming up because a national championship is the biggest goal for Notre Dame right now.”
Entering his final postseason, Tynan has the experience of both an NCAA tournament push and a conference title under his belt. Regardless of how the season ends, he will leave Notre Dame as one of its most prolific scorer over the last 20 years. But he has even bigger aspirations.
“You want to enjoy the experience at Notre Dame, knowing that it is winding down,” he says.
“You want to leave a lasting impression, and we’re really hoping to bring the first national championship here.”