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 Association standings.
"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 competition."
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 start."
|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 Matt Eisler."
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 game."
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 in 35 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 player.
"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 right direction."
|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 opportunities.
"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, 15 A).
|Brian Urick has been Notre Dame's most consistent offensive performer over the past two seasons, totaling 27 points as a freshman and 25 as a sophomore.|
"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 season."
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," said Poulin.
|Junior left wing Aniket Dhadphale is one of the Irish's top-scoring returners.|
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 history.|
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. Louis Blues.
"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 Poulin.
|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 draft.|
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 championship.
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 forward lines.
"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."