"If the past is any indication, Poulin will grow from the adversity and reach the goals he has set--for himself and the Notre Dame program. He is teaching Notre Dame how to win now, and he can do that because of how much he's overcome."
- Adam Wodon Bergen (N.J.) Record Dec. 29, 1996
Dave Poulin begins his 10th season as head coach of the Notre Dame hockey program and is coming off his best season behind the Irish bench and the best year in the program's 37-year history.
The 2003-04 Irish won 20 games for the first time since the 1987-88 season and advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the first time ever. Notre Dame finished the campaign with a 20-15-4 overall record and was ranked 12th in the nation to close the season.
The Irish tied for fourth place in the CCHA with a 14-11-3 record and advanced to Joe Louis Arena for the fourth time in the past five years (semifinals in 2000 and Super Six in 2002, 2003 and 2004). Only Michigan and Michigan State have made it in all five seasons since 2000.
Defense was the backbone of Poulin's `03-'04 Irish as the team set school records for lowest goals-against average (2.48), save percentage (.922), penalty-killing success (.874) and shutouts in a season (6).
Just the third coach in the program's modern history (since 1968), the 1982 Notre Dame grad took over in the spring of 1995 and has worked since then to move Fighting Irish hockey among the elite programs in college hockey. Recognized as one of the most successful players ever to play at Notre Dame, Poulin returned to his alma mater, just weeks after finishing his National Hockey League career with the Washington Capitals.
Success is something that has followed Poulin throughout his career from his days as a player at Notre Dame, to the NHL and now as coach of the Irish. His recipe for success on and off the ice has been simple. Throughout his playing career, Poulin was always recognized for his incredible work ethic, his intelligence and his leadership skills.
Those are the characteristics that he instills in his players at Notre Dame as they work to improve their skills and talents; not only as hockey players, but also as student-athletes preparing for life after their hockey careers have ended.
During the 2003-04 season, the Irish achieved much of their success versus the top teams in the nation, going 5-1-1 versus teams ranked in the top five or better. Notre Dame defeated top-ranked Boston College, 1-0, in October at Chestnut Hill, Mass. The Irish then defeated third-ranked Maine, 1-0, on Dec. 28 at the Everblades Collegiate Hockey Classic in Estero, Fla., to go with a 3-1 win at fourth-ranked Wisconsin on Jan. 18 (the Irish also tied the Badgers, 2-2 in Madison, Wis.). They closed the regular season with a pair of home wins over fourth-ranked Michigan. Notre Dame's only loss to a top-five team came versus fourth-ranked Minnesota (5-2) in their first-ever NCAA regional appearance.
In their first-ever NCAA appearance in Grand Rapids, Mich., the Irish scored first and led 2-0 after one period before the Gophers rallied for the 5-2 win. The highly respected Poulin, a four-year monogram winner and two-time team captain for the Irish, has distinguished himself at every level of the game including his 12 seasons in the NHL.
A finalist for CCHA coach of the year honors in 2004, Poulin has proven to be an outstanding recruiter. His freshman class of 2003-04 was rated second in the nation by the Red Line Report during the summer of 2003.
During Poulin's tenure, the Irish have had 13 players come to Notre Dame via USA Hockey's National Developmental Program with eight players going on to play for the U.S. Junior National team in the World Junior Championships between 1996-2003.
Nineteen of Poulin's players have been selected in the NHL Draft, including 15 that he and his staffs have recruited since returning to the Irish in 1995. Current freshman, Victor Oreskovich (Colorado, 2nd round), sophomore Wes O'Neill (New York Islanders, fourth round) and sophomore David Brown (Pittsburgh, eighth round) were selected in the June 2004 Entry Draft. Four members of Notre Dame's first NCAA team (2003-04) inked NHL contracts following the season. Aaron Gill (San Jose), Rob Globke (Florida), Neil Komadoski (Ottawa) and Brett Lebda (Detroit) will all attend NHL training camps this fall.
Poulin recruits; Mark Eaton (Nashville) and Ben Simon (Nashville) saw action in the National Hockey League in 2003-04.
Over the course of 17 seasons on the college and professional level, Poulin played in 1,149 career games, helped his teams post 559 wins and a .543 winning percentage, and totaled 726 career points (294 goals, 432 assists). His most noteworthy former NHL coaches include Mike Keenan, Mike Milbury and Jim Schoenfeld.
In 1978-79, Poulin set the Notre Dame record for goals by a freshman (28) and equaled the record for points by a freshman (59), with both marks remaining unmatched. He stands tied for fifth on the Notre Dame career goals list (89), sixth in points (196) and seventh in assists (107). Poulin still shares the Notre Dame career records for game-winning goals (13) and hat tricks (8).
As a senior, Poulin was a finalist for the 1982 Hobey Baker national player-of-the-year award. That year, as the Irish captain, he led Notre Dame to the championship of the Great Lakes Invitational, the last in-season tournament won by a Notre Dame hockey team.
Poulin also was the CCHA's fifth-leading scorer in '81-'82, with 59 points, while earning second team all-CCHA honors and leading the Irish to the CCHA title game, capping the best season in Notre Dame hockey history.
Following graduation, Poulin played one season with the Rogle hockey club in Sweden, totaling 35 goals and 27 assists, before signing as a free agent late in the '82-'83 season with the Philadelphia Flyers. In his first game with the Flyers, he scored goals on each of his first two shots before a hometown crowd at Toronto's Maple Leaf Gardens.
Poulin returned in 1983-84 to post Flyers' rookie records with 31 goals and 45 assists and ranked second among NHL rookies with 76 points. A year later, he was named team captain and helped the Flyers reach the 1985 Stanley Cup finals, where they lost to an Edmonton Oiler squad laden with future Hall of Famers.
During his NHL career, Poulin played in 724 career NHL games while amassing 205 goals and 325 assists. He played six-plus seasons with Philadelphia (1983-90), three-plus years with the Boston Bruins (1990-93) and his final two campaigns with the Washington Capitals. Poulin helped lead three teams to the Stanley Cup finals (Philadelphia in '85 and '87, Boston in '90) while playing on six squads that reached the conference championship round. He played in three NHL All-Star games (`86, Rendezvous `87 vs. the Soviet Union and `88).
In 1987, Poulin won the Frank J. Selke Trophy, awarded to the forward who best excels at the defensive aspects of the game. In '93, he received the King Clancy Memorial Trophy, recognizing the player who best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice and has made a noteworthy humanitarian contribution in his community.
Born Dec. 17, 1958, in Timmins, Ontario, Poulin received his marketing degree from Notre Dame in 1982. He and his wife Kim, a Saint Mary's College graduate, are parents of three daughters, 18-year-old twins Lindsay and Taylor - freshmen at Notre Dame, and 14-year-old Kylie.
Drawing Inspiration From Experience
Dave Poulin has developed a distinctive approach to guiding the Notre Dame hockey program, an approach that draws on his experiences as an undergraduate at Notre Dame and in the National Hockey League.
"Many athletes dream of coming back to their alma mater to coach," says Poulin. "I want to open people's eyes to the Notre Dame experience, which I believe has been the foundation of my success."
When speaking of the Notre Dame experience, Poulin highlights such concepts as preparation, life options, discipline, and dealing with pressures and uncertainty. But at the core of all those ideas is the simple concept of self growth.
"The ultimate role of a college coach is to try and teach kids about themselves and about the great things they are capable of doing," he says.
"The biggest thing I've tried to pass on is the ability to do more--to get yourself into areas you didn't think you could get into," says Poulin, who enjoyed a 12-year career in the NHL despite not being drafted. "It also is important as an athlete to know your limits and play within yourself. However, it's best to play at the upper limits. Everyone has limitations--it's how far you push the top end of them that makes you distinctly different ... and successful."
In conjunction with his perspective as a pro player, Poulin also has a keen appreciation for the totality of one's college experience.
"I want the hockey program here to be an encompassing program," says Poulin. "I want to develop the off-ice character of the players: mind strength, community awareness, a concern for the less fortunate.
"The Notre Dame student-athlete experience is all about preparing people for what they are going to do when they are done with college. If that's playing in the National Hockey League, great. If it's not, they are going to be prepared from a competitive standpoint, by learning from success and sometimes from failure. The reason that the University of Notre Dame has performed at such a high level for such a long time is simply because it prepares you for life."
Poulin's Notre Dame experience allowed many doors of opportunity to remain open.
"My Notre Dame experience gave me a lot of choices later in life," says Poulin, who had a promising brokerage career waiting in the wings prior to accepting the head coaching position at Notre Dame. "My background put me in a position to have options in a business (pro hockey) where you don't get many choices. In effect, I chose to play hockey while knowing I could do other things--and that made playing hockey even more enjoyable. There's nothing more you can ask for than options."
Poulin also learned from trying to balance the demands of being a student-athlete.
"There are a lot of pressures involved with being a student-athlete," he says. "You come to realize that there's no exact pattern--you can never predict exactly what's going to happen. All you can do is prepare the best you can and adjust to what happens."t
A defining trait of Poulin's tenure as coach of the Irish was a focus on discipline, something for which he was known as a player.
"To be successful in this business, you need discipline. A lot of my discipline was learned from the academic side of Notre Dame, and that carried over into what made me a disciplined player in the NHL. As a coach, there's a lot of different ways to instill that discipline--some of it is on the ice, some of it is not."
Poulin's many experiences--both on and off the ice -- have included some tragic and stressful times, from the extremely premature birth of his twin daughters (now thriving 16-year-olds), to the sudden death of a star teammate, to the trauma of a midseason trade.
"Everyone faces challenges and trying times, and facing them in the context of a hockey season just makes it a tougher test," says Poulin. "But in many ways you learn more from those times than from the big successes."
Early in his NHL career, Poulin played with what he calls great mentors, including eventual Hall-of-Famers Bobby Clarke, Darryl Sittler and Bill Barber. Fittingly enough, Poulin developed into just such a mentor years later. It was a role that ultimately led him into college coaching.
"I really enjoyed that role of being a mentor, of making a difference for others," says Poulin. "When I was with Boston, I went to see a lot of games at Boston University and Boston College. I still enjoyed watching college hockey and that clicked me back into the college mode.
"The opportunity here at Notre Dame was a perfect fit. I saw it as a way to stay in the game and work with an age group that I enjoyed, while passing on some of what I had learned."
Dave Poulin Coaching File
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Poulin At A Glance
- Wife Kim, married in 1982
- Twin daughters Lindsay and Taylor, born Oct. 2, 1986
- Daughter Kylie, born Aug. 9, 1990
NHL Playing Experience
- Philadelphia Flyers (1982-90)
- Boston Bruins (1990-93)
- Washington Capitals (1993-95)
NHL Playing Honors
- King Clancy Trophy (1993)
- NHL All-Star Game (1986, 1987, 1988)
- Frank Selke Trophy (1987)
Collegiate Playing Honors
- Hobey Baker finalist ('81-'82)
- Second team all-CCHA ('81-'82)
- CCHA All-Tournament ('81-'82)
- Notre Dame team MVP ('81-'82)
- Great Lakes Invit. MVP ('81-'82)
- CCHA runner-up team ('81-'82)
- Notre Dame rookie of year ('78-'79)
- Rogle Club of Sweden (1982-83)