Oct. 9, 1997
Matt Eisler could establish himself
as one of the CCHA's top netminders this season.
The University of Notre Dame hockey team heads into its 1997-98 season knowing
all too well the opportunity that awaits it.
With yet another talented incoming class in the fold and the lessons of a
near-miss 1996-97 season ingrained in their collective conscious, the Irish are
primed to make a move up in the challenging Central Collegiate Hockey
"I think a big part of the '96-'97 results will come forth in '97-'98," said
third-year Notre Dame head coach Dave Poulin, who welcomes back his top two
goaltenders and 18 other players who accounted for 77 percent of the goals a
year ago. "We learned a great deal as a team last season and competed much
better from 1995-96. Now, we just have to take it to the next level of
A common statistic throughout 1996-97 was the growing number of close defeats
suffered by the Irish, a run of 12 one-goal losses that Poulin and the Irish
are ready to put behind them.
"Certainly, the 12 one-goal losses are something we've heard a lot
about--probably too much--but it's a fact that we lost a lot of close games
last season," said Poulin. "Hopefully, this season we'll give people a chance
to talk about something else. The ideal thing would be talking about a great
Junior Benoit Cotnoir leads the returning Irish defensive players.
Notre Dame's highly-touted freshman and sophomore classes yielded four 1997
National Hockey League draft picks--sophomore forwards Ben Simon and Joe
Dusbabek, freshman forward Jay Kopischke and freshman defenseman Ryan
Clark--matching Boston College for most from a Division I school. While Poulin
acknowledges that the young players will be given every chance to compete, he
points to the veterans as being the key to 1997-98.
"We have a very exciting class coming in to complement a large group of
returners. But the success of the team still has to come from the
upperclassmen," said Poulin. "The freshmen are going to play important roles
but we have to look first to our senior class. There are only three seniors but
they are going to be instrumental parts of the team, starting in the net with
Eisler (West Milford, Conn.)--Notre Dame's starting goaltender each of his
first three seasons--could establish himself as one of the CCHA's top
netminders, after posting a 3.65 goals-against average in '96-97 that ranks
second-best at Notre Dame in the past 20 years and an .885 save percentage that
is best by an Irish goaltender since 1977.
"Eisler has to be 'the man'," said Poulin, matter-of-factly. "He is in the rare
position to be a four-year starter and has to go out and show that he is one of
the top goaltenders in the country. Matt has pressure on him, but it's a good
pressure--he wants to succeed. Control is the big factor for Matt. The physical
skills are definitely there. He just needs to continue to develop his mental
Eisler--who enters '97-'98 as the nation's sixth-leading active save leader
(2,080)--anchors a returning defensive unit that helped the Irish post the
fourth-best penalty-killing percentage in the CCHA in '96-'97 (.813). The Notre
Dame defense loses the graduated Ben Nelsen and Brian McCarthy (who also played
forward in '97-'98) but six defensemen return, led by junior Benoit Cotnoir
(Rouyn Noranda, Que.) and the sophomore tandem of Nathan Borega (Wasilla,
Alaska) and Tyson Fraser (Surrey, B.C.).
Cotnoir remains an offensive threat, after totaling five goals and 10 assists
last season and 19 points as a freshman, while Fraser and the 6-2, 225-pound
Borega both were honorable mention all-CCHA rookie team selections after
skating together for most of their freshman season.
"We don't have a senior on the blue line but it still is an experienced group,"
said Poulin. "We certainly will look for Cotnoir to lead the group and to be a
big part of our powerplay. And three of the other returners saw significant
playing time last year as freshmen, so the defense will be counted on for
stability this season."
Borega and Fraser could show the benefits of the familiarity that comes from
playing together for a full season
"I like to be able to play guys like Borega and Fraser together like that,
players who complement each other real well," said Poulin. "Nathan is your
classic stay-at-home, physical defenseman while Tyson is a very subtle and
intelligent player. They are a great combination."
Despite his physical style, Nathan Borega was whistled for just 31 penalties
games as a freshman.
Despite his physical style, Borega was whistled for just 31 penalties in 35
games as a freshman, helping the Irish cut down considerably on their penalty
production. Fraser's value as a freshman possibly was most apparent in the five
games he missed due to a midseason shoulder injury. The 5-11, 180-pound
Fraser--noted for his ability to continually show the instincts needed to break
up opponent scoring chances--led the Irish in plus-minus last season (+6) while
his nine assists were second only to Cotnoir among the Irish defensemen.
The Irish defense also returns sophomores Sean Molina (Skokie, Ill.), who
appeared in 32 games as a freshman, and Sean Seyferth (Ann Arbor, Mich.), who
made 20 appearances as a rookie. Junior Scott Giuliani (Burlington, Ont.) also
returns after taking on an expanded role in '97-'98.
"Molina, Seyferth and Giuliani could play key roles for the defense," said
Poulin. "Molina, in particular, gained valuable experience as a freshman by
skating with a number of the veteran defensemen and should be an important part
of our defensive success this season."
There are just two newcomers to the Irish defense but they cast a big shadow as
a pair of physical lefthanders--the 6-4, 215-pound Clark (Littleton, Colo.) and
6-3, 195-pound Mark Eaton (Wilmington, Del.)--who combine with Borega to give
Notre Dame a trio of bruising blueliners.
Clark, who is coming off a championship season with the Lincoln Stars of the
U.S. Hockey League, also could be a concern at the other end of the ice due to
his hard shot. Eaton was a second team all-USHL performer with the Waterloo
Blackhawks and was the league's third-leading scoring defenseman while also
garnering the Curt Hammer Award, which recognizes the USHL's most gentlemanly
"Clark and Eaton are a great addition to the defense and certainly fill some
needs there," said Poulin. "It's ironic that Clark may remind some people of
Borega while Eaton has similar instincts to Fraser. Adding defensemen of Clark
and Eaton's caliber to the solid group we have returning is a big step in the
Joe Dusbabek was runner-up for the 1996-97 CCHA rookie of the year award and went on
to earn a spot on the U.S. Tampere Cup team.
Junior Forrest Karr (DeForest, Wis.), who posted two noteworthy wins at Bowling
Green during '96-'97, again will challenge Eisler for the starting nod in the
net while freshman Kyle Kolquist (Duluth, Minn.)--last year's Minnesota high
school goaltender of the year--could help provide the Irish with its greatest
depth ever in the nets.
"Forrest and Kyle will push Matt Eisler this season and that should be a
healthy situation for everybody," said Poulin. "I've never known a coach who
was worried about having too much goaltending depth and we look forward to
seeing those three in practice on a daily basis."
While the defense will be counted on to set the tone, the key to greater
success for the Irish in 1997-98 could center on the productivity of the
forward lines, following a '96-'97 season in which Notre Dame averaged just 2.6
goals per game while converting on only 12.6 percent of its powerplay
"Offensively, we have to produce more. Our defense outgrew our offense last
year and now we have to look at things offensively," said Poulin. "Usually, a
young team loses a lot of one-goal games but loses them 8-7 or 7-6. That didn't
happen to us last year, because we looked after our own end. Now, a large part
of our offensive improvement certainly has to come with special teams--we have
to see a marked improvement in our powerplay."
Notre Dame returns each of its top five scorers from 1996-97, led by a pair of
right wings who prepped at Minnetonka High School--junior Brian Urick
(Minnetonka, Minn.) and sophomore Dusbabek (Faribault, Minn.)--who posted
identical marks of 13 goals and 12 assists a year ago.
Other top returning scorers include junior left wing Aniket Dhadphale (5 G, 16
A), senior center Lyle Andrusiak (7 G, 12 A) and sophomore center Simon (4 G,
Brian Urick has been Notre Dame's most consistent offensive performer over
two seasons, totaling 27 points as a freshman and 25 as a
"We expect Urick to lead the offense and this could be a breakout year for
him," said Poulin. "Dusbabek proved himself as a member of the CCHA all-rookie
team and is one of the more physical players in the league. We certainly look
for Dhadphale to return to his freshman form and Andrusiak is looking to finish
up strongly at Notre Dame. Simon creates a lot of havoc for opposing teams
because of his speed and should be a more consistent scoring threat this
Urick has been Notre Dame's most consistent offensive performer over the past
two seasons, totaling 27 points as a freshman (12 G, 15 A) and 25 as a
sophomore. He teams with the physical 6-1, 205-pound Dusbabek--who was runnerup
in the CCHA rookie of the year voting in 1996-97--to give the Irish a solid
foundation at right wing."Urick can hurt teams in a lot of ways because he is
capable of scoring goals in a lot of different situations," said Poulin. "Joe
is the prototypical power forward and had a great freshman year for us."
Andrusiak (Foam Lake, Sask.) and Dhadphale (Marquette, Mich.) head into 1997-98
seeking the similar goal of consistency. The 6-0, 190-pound Andrusiak, who was
moved from right wing to center last season, scored 10 goals as a freshman but
failed to match that total in the last two seasons combined, lighting the lamp
just once as a sophomore and seven times in 1996-97.
"Lyle is ready for a big senior year and knows what it will take. He's been
through some ups and downs but has proven he can score goals in the big games,"
Junior left wing Aniket Dhadphale is one of the Irish's top-scoring
Dhadphale also opened his career with a sizable number of goals, leading the
Irish with 13, before struggling through a sophomore campaign that saw him
score on just 4.6 percent of his 109 shots on goal.
Simon returns for his second season after spending parts of 1997 with the USA
hockey program, including a successful stint with the team that claimed the
silver medal at the 1997 World Junior Championships, the highest finish for the
United State in the 21-year history of the event. Simon and Dusbabek both were
among 44 invitees to the junior national camp in August of '97, with each
moving on as members of the 22-player squad that represented the U.S. in the
international Tampere Cup.
"Ben and Joe are deserving of their opportunities with the national program and
have proven to be one of the top young forward tandems in the country," said
Poulin. "Ben has played in a lot of national and international competitions
over the last couple of years and you can see the benefits that those
experiences have had on his game."
Simon--noted for his speed, clever stickwork and toughness--endured a
frustrating start to his career that saw him have to wait 15 games and 31 shots
on net before registering his first goal at Notre Dame. "That's one of the many
things a player has to learn from. Ben is a very good player but he can be even
more dangerous for us this season by being more consistent," said Poulin.
The Irish return seven other forwards while welcoming five new offensive
threats to what will be a very competitive offensive group.
Senior Steve Noble is the first three-year captain in Irish hockey
Senior Steve Noble (Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.)--the first three-year captain in
Irish hockey history and winner of the '97 CCHA Flanagan Award--paced the Irish
last season with five powerplay goals while totaling nine goals and seven
assists. A second team Academic All-American, the finance major owns a 3.958
cumulative grade- point-average that ranks second among all students in the
College of Business Administration. The Rhodes Scholar nominee's many
postgraduate options include a run at pro hockey as a draft pick of the St.
"Steve epitomizes the term student-athlete and is an excellent representative
for our university and the hockey program," said Poulin of Noble, who was a
lock for the 1996-97 CCHA all-academic team. "Being Notre Dame's first
three-year captain is a great honor for Steve as well but I know he is focused
on helping this team have a successful 1997-98 season. And nobody is more
deserving of a memorable senior season than Steve Noble."
The other returning forwards include junior centers Neal Johnson (Edina, Minn.)
and Craig Hagkull (Arden Hills, Minn.) and four sophomores: right wings Troy
Bagne (Moorhead, Minn.) and John Dwyer (Winnetka, Ill.), left wing Andy
Jurkowski (Madison, Wis.) and center Shane Slominski (Burnsville, Minn.).
Johnson (2 G, 3 A) and Hagkull (3 G, 3 A) spent most of their junior season as
members of the third and fourth lines and should contend for a similar role
this season. The crafty Johnson scored a memorable overtime goal to beat
Western Michigan late in the 1996-97 season and will be counted on for similar
timely play. Hagkull, who checks in at 6-4, 215 pounds, is the most imposing of
Notre Dame's 17-man forward unit and likewise has shown moments of clutch play
in his Irish career.
"Neal and Craig remain important parts of the forward line and we look for them
to elevate their games. They've been around and know what it takes," said
Sophomore center Ben Simon has had an eventful 1997, highlighted by a silver-medal
effort with the U.S. junior national team and a fifth round selection in the NHL
Bagne should show the benefits of extensive playing time on the top three lines
as a freshman, when he was used at center and at both wing positions. His first
season yielded just one goal and four assists but Bagne, an excellent skater
and competitor, should show strides in his second season.
The 6-3, 215-pound Dwyer (1 G, 3 A) returns after serving as a hard-hitting
member of the fourth line in 1996-97 while Slominski returns after appearing in
just one game last season amidst the deep forward unit.
Left wing Dan Carlson (Edina, Minn.)--a finalist for the state of Minnesota's
prestigious Mr. Hockey Award--highlights a promising crop of first-year
forwards, a group that includes left wings Kopischke (Alexandria, Minn.) and
Matt Van Arkel (Richton Park, Ill.), center/left wing Chad Chipchase (Clinton,
Ont.) and right wing Ryan Dolder (Hutchinson, Minn.).
"Van Arkel and Carlson both have reputations as goal scorers and certainly will
be given the chance to help us there," said Poulin. "And Kopischke and
Chipchase provide some unique things to the forward line because of Jay's size
and Chad's strong all-around play."
Carlson was a finalist for the Minnesota Mr. Hockey Award in '96-'97, after
leading Edina High School to the state title. Noted for his classic
combination of speed and power, the 5-10, 190-pound Carlson packs a lot of
strength into his frame, as evidence by a team-leading 305-pound benchpress in
the '97 fall conditioning.
The surging Kopischke also will contend on the left wing, after coming on
strong late last season for the North Iowa Huskies. The 6-3, 205-pound
Kopischke should add to the physical dimension of the Irish forward unit while
providing more options for the various lines.
Van Arkel, who chose to remain in the Midwest while pursuing his
student-athlete career, is coming off a stellar season with the Milton (Ont.)
Merchants, in which he totaled 54 goals and 39 assists. An option on left wing
or center, the righthander is noted for his speed and competitiveness and has
totaled 196 points over the past two seasons (including 60 goals, 43 assists
with Team Illinois in 1995-96).
Chipchase has made a name for himself as a solid player at both ends of the
ice, most recently with the Waterloo (Ont.) Siskins. Noted for his skating
skill and penalty-killing ability, Chipchase totaled 18 goals and 20 assists
with Waterloo after previously helping Team Ontario capture the under-17 world
Dolder, a strong skater and consistent performer, has solid experience as a
member of the Twin City Vulcans and provides yet another option to the deep
"Overall, we have to look for contributions from a lot of different people,"
concluded Poulin. "We don't have a guy we can point to and say, 'OK, there's
our 30 goals.' So there has to be that balanced scoring attack and I think we
have pretty good depth, in terms of capability for scoring."