Jan. 21, 2002
By Tim Connor
For Notre Dame hockey fans that watch the Irish in action at the Joyce Center, finding sophomore center Aaron Gill on the ice is usually pretty easy.
Gill is easy to spot because of the way he plays the game. And that’s because he plays the game at one speed and that’s full speed.
His coach, Dave Poulin, describes his forward with emphasis on just one word, “Speed, speed, speed.”
Poulin is also quick to point out that it isn’t speed alone that makes Gill one of the key players in the Notre Dame offense.
“They say you can’t teach speed, but Aaron has made himself faster. He goes full speed from the minute he hits the ice. He’s decided that he is going to play the game at a pace that he’s comfortable with – and that’s full speed. That makes him look like the fastest guy on the ice because he’s always moving,” says Poulin.
The speedy center displayed his skating skills on Jan. 4 in Notre Dame’s 3-3 tie with the Michigan Wolverines. With the Irish trailing 3-2 late in the third period and the two teams playing four-on-four, Gill won a face-off in the Irish zone and let his wheels do the rest.
The puck went behind the Notre Dame net where defenseman T.J. Mathieson whipped it around the right wing boards to defensive partner Tom Galvin. Galvin took two strides before hitting the speeding Gill with a cross-ice pass along the left wing boards at center ice.
Gill went around a Michigan defenseman with a burst of speed and then cut across the face-off circles before unleashing a wrist shot that beat Wolverine goaltender Josh Blackburn high to his glove side to tie the game at 3-3.
“I like to play four-on-four because there is a lot more open ice. If you keep your feet moving you’re going to be moving faster than the guy who isn’t moving his feet. I was able to keep my speed the whole shift after Tommy (Galvin) gave me the puck. I went by the defenseman and cut across the ice. The goalie seemed to be trailing like he thought I wasn’t going to make the cut. I shot the puck and got it by his glove,” said Gill as he described his sixth goal of the year.
Poulin gives Gill’s feet all the credit on that goal.
“His feet never stopped moving from the time he made the play on the face-off until he scored. For him it was an overspeed drill that we do in practice. That’s the way he’s played been since day when he stepped on the ice,” says Poulin.
The lightning-quick Gill credits a coach from his youth for developing his skating skills.
“Todd Lampman coached me in squirts and through high school. He was big on power skating and always stressed how important it was to be a good skater. He really helped me with that aspect of the game,” says Gill.
The Rochester, Minn., native burst on the Irish hockey scene in quiet, unassuming fashion last season as one of three Notre Dame freshmen to score 26 points. The 21-year old Gill scored 11 goals and added 15 assists for his 26 points with three of the goals coming on the power play. He scored the game-winning goal (one of two goals in the game) in Notre Dame’s 4-1 upset of fifth-ranked Western Michigan in mid-January. He was an honorable mention selection to the CCHA’s all-rookie team.
While 26 points are quite an accomplishment for a freshman, Gill wasn’t surprised with his offensive success.
“I really wasn’t surprised. I was just happy that I was doing the best job I could. It was great to be put in situations where I had a chance to help the team,” says Gill.
Using his speed and incredible work ethic has made Gill a success on the ice everywhere he’s played. A standout performer at John Marshall High School and then Shattuck St. Mary’s Prep School, Gill honed his game in three seasons with his hometown Rochester Mustangs of the United States Hockey League (USHL).
In three seasons with the Mustangs, Gill scored 103 points. He led Rochester in scoring in 1999-2000 when he had 26 goals and 23 assists in 55 games. He played in the USHL all-star game that season and received the USHL’s Curt Hammer Award, which is presented annually to the league’s “most gentlemanly player on and off the ice.” Former Irish defenseman Mark Eaton and current forward Cory McLean have also won that award.
“I don’t think we were surprised with the way Aaron played last year. We recruited that energy he has, but he’s become more of a finished player in a short time. He was Rochester’s leading scorer, but he hasn’t missed a beat since coming here,” says Poulin.
While just midway through his second year at Notre Dame, Gill says he doesn’t have any career highlights. One game that does stand out for him is his first collegiate game. That game came versus the University of Minnesota in the Hall of Fame game at the Xcel Energy Center in front of over 18,000 fans.
“I was really excited to be playing in Minnesota versus Minnesota. Like most kids, I grew up watching the Gophers and although I was never a huge fan, I always wanted to play against them. The Minnesota Gophers are college hockey in Minnesota. To play my first game against them helped me realize that I was playing Division I college hockey,” explains Gill.
With 14 points (six goals and eight assists) through Notre Dame’s first 22 games, Gill ranks fourth in scoring. His three power play goals equal his freshman year total, as he is a key player on both the Notre Dame power play and penalty killing units.
While his team got off to a slow start this season, the Business major is happy with the way the Irish have turned things around.
“I don’t think we were focused on the right things early. Once we figured out what we needed to focus on, it was easier to have success. We are playing with confidence. We know our abilities and are playing up to them. I really like the way we are playing now,” says Gill.