Sept. 22, 1997
Irish Miss Postseason in a Near-Miss Season
After dropping a pair of crucial games at Ohio State during the first week of February, the Notre Dame hockey team headed into its final five games of the season still holding out hopes for a berth in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association postseason tournament.
The Irish dropped their next two games, at No. 1 Michigan (3-1 and 6-1), but returned home to post an emotional 5-4 overtime win over Western Michigan, with sophomore Neal Johnson netting the game-winner.
The Irish and WMU played the next day in Kalamazoo, where the Broncos ended Notre Dame's postseason hopes with a 6-1 win. The season ended with a 3-2 loss to Michigan State, Notre Dame's 12th one-goal loss of a near-miss season.
Several Notre Dame players garnered postseason honors, led by junior co-captain Steve Noble, who capped an award-filled spring by being named a GTE/CoSIDA second team Academic All American. Noble earlier had been named to the seven-player CCHA All-Academic team before being presented with the CCHA's 1997 Terry Flanagan Award, which recognizes a letterwinner who has overcome personal adversity to achieve success, both on and off the ice. Noble, who had major back surgery in the summer of 1994, has played in 106 of 107 games during his Irish career while maintaining a 3.98 GPA as a finance major.
Freshman forward Joe Dusbabek became the first Notre Dame player named to the six-man CCHA all-rookie team since 1992-93, after sharing the team scoring lead with sophomore Brian Urick (both players totaled 13 goals and 12 assists). A pair of freshmen linemates on the Irish defense - Tyson Fraser and Nate Borega - received honorable mention all-rookie honors from the CCHA, making Notre Dame's the league's only school with three players that received all-rookie team honors.
Junior goaltender Matt Eisler concluded a stellar season in which he posted a 3.65 goals against average that ranks sixth-best in Irish history and second-best by a Notre Dame netminder in the last 20 years. Eisler's .885 season save percentage ties for fourth in the Irish record book and stands as the best mark at Notre Dame since 1977.
The solid play of Eisler and the addition of talented group of freshmen defensemen yielded a noticeably improved defensive unit for the Irish in 1996-97. Notre Dame ranked fourth in the CCHA for penalty killing percentage, sliced its team GAA from 4.36 in 1995-96 to 3.74 and committed nearly three fewer penalties per game than during 1995-96.
The Irish are set to lose just five players off their 1996-97 roster: backup goaltender Erik Berg, forwards Terry Lorenz and Tim Harberts, defenseman Ben Nelson and defenseman/forward Brian McCarthy. With another top-notched recruiting class ready to join the fold, Notre Dame next season is set to return 22 players who accounted for 77 percent of the assists during the 1996-97 season.
A pair of Irish freshman forwards -- Ben Simon and Dusbabek -- both were selected in the 1997 NHL entry draft, as were incoming Irish players Jay Kopischke and Ryan Clark, tying Notre Dame with Boston College as the colleges with the most players selected in the '97 draft. The Irish and Eagles will face off next season at the Joyce Center on Oct. 24, the night before the schools will meet in football across the street at Notre Dame Stadium.