Nov. 12, 2014
Notre Dame, Indiana – By Teagan Dillon ’18
Sophomore goaltender Chad Katunar’s pre-game routine is no different this year than it was his freshman year. From the two-hour pre-game nap, to the dynamic stretching, sprints and exact time he puts his gear on–there is little variation.
The moment he puts on his suit and walks into the beautiful Compton Family Ice Arena, Katunar knows that in just two hours he will be on the ice, battling for his team.
“It’s just getting over some of the nerves or apprehension of knowing that you’re going to be the guy this year and that the burden falls on you,” Katunar says. `The expression `heavy lies the crown’ definitely applies, but I wouldn’t change a thing.”
Katunar was the backup goaltender to Steven Summerhays during the 2013-14 season, playing in five games and making three starts. Since Summerhays graduated last spring, some of the pressure now falls on Katunar.
“You can say you prepare the same way whether or not you’re starting or backing up, but I don’t really buy that,” Katunar says. “There is definitely a mental difference. It’s exciting, though. I want to be in there. I want to battle for my team.”
Through the first six games of the season, Katunar and freshman goaltender Cal Petersen rotated according to head coach Jeff Jackson’s early-season plan. Since Oct. 25, Petersen has made five straight starts before Katunar took over for him in the second period of the Nov. 9 game at Minnesota.
Trailing, 3-0, Katunar gave the Irish a chance to get back in the game, stopping 21-of-22 shots over the final 40 minutes in what became a 4-2 loss. The big netminder made several big saves, holding off the hard-charging Gophers until Notre Dame got its offense untracked.
As the Irish prepare to travel to Merrimack this weekend for a Hockey East series, Katunar has appeared in four games and is 2-1-0 with a 2.77 goals-against average and a .907 save percentage.
He knows that there is no guarantee when it comes to playing time, but is grateful for any chance to step on the ice to represent the University of Notre Dame.
“All I am focused on, and all Cal is focused on, is outdoing the goalie on the other side of the ice,” the native of Victoria, British, Columbia says. “At the end of the day, the only thing that matters is that we have a guy in our net who can perform well for our team.”
Having only played in a handful of games last season, Katunar took the famous idiom “champions are made in the offseason” to heart in order to prepare for this season. Standing at a towering six-foot, five-inches and 231 pounds, Katunar must train harder to take advantage of his size and better his physical strength and speed.
“I’m playing at 230 pounds, and I have to be able to move as fast as a guy who’s 180 pounds,” Katunar says. “It’s definitely important that I maintain a lot of strength.”
In addition to strength training, Katunar focused on the importance of maintaining his composure in the net, which was one of the biggest lessons he took from Summerhays.
“He always had a calm demeanor while playing, which relaxed the team and gave them confidence in his ability,” Katunar says. “I want to be the same way. If my teammates see me with control over my emotions and the game, that reassures them.”
Katunar’s first time in the net for Notre Dame was something he will never forget. He was thrust into the game after Summerhays received a penalty in the third period and, despite his anxiety, held on to win a 3-2 decision on the road at Minnesota Duluth.
In comparison to his emotions from that first game, Katunar says he feels 10 times more comfortable and confident. This self-assurance is only acquired with experience, which he has received more of this season.
“Those feelings of uneasiness, and some nausea even, fade away and are replaced with the focus of just doing my job and keeping pucks out,” he says. “I definitely notice a difference in my composure and how I feel going into games now.”
It also helps having a strong defensive core.
“They make my job a lot easier every night,” Katunar says. “We still have a long way to go, but things are getting smoother every day. I’m very happy with the direction our defensemen are going right now. “
While Katunar’s chemistry is improving with the defensive lines, he already has a strong connection with his forwards–or at least two of them. Juniors Steven Fogarty and Mario Lucia both played with Katunar on the Penticton Vees of the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL). Together, they won the 2012 Canadian Junior National Championship.
“Nothing brings people together quite like winning a championship, and we were fortunate enough to win the RBC Cup up there,” Fogarty says. “So when we heard Chad was potentially going to come here, we were really excited and contacted him.”
“I was thrilled to know a couple of guys,” Katunar says. “It’s definitely hard coming into an unfamiliar situation, so it was nice to have a couple of friends on the team who I have played with before and made unforgettable memories with. It definitely helped me get my foot in the door.”
The Vees provided Katunar with a solid foundation coming into Notre Dame. Not only did he have the opportunity to experience a national championship, but he also set a North American junior hockey record with 42 consecutive wins.
“Those were some years I’ll never forget,” Katunar says with a smile. “They were definitely some incredible times.”
The high expectations, professionally run program and beautiful facilities Katunar experienced with the Penticton Vees made the transition to Notre Dame much easier. But one thing the Vees could not prepare Katunar for, however, is Notre Dame’s demanding curriculum.
“It’s a grind down here,” Katunar says. “There’s a lot of work and time management with being a student-athlete, but it’s all worth it.”
According to Katunar, the trick is to take things day by day. Whether he is in the classroom, weight room or on the ice, his main priority is performing to the best of his ability. As a goalie, Katunar has the foundation and tutelage necessary to succeed. Now he is ready for the experience.
“It’s been a process and it continues to be a process,” he says. “My goal is just to give my team a chance to win in every game that I play.”