March 11, 1999
Often times, the actual journey towards success can be just as rewarding as the feelings when that success is finally achieved.
No concept could be more applicable to the senior class of the 1998-99 Notre Dame hockey team, which endured two nine-win seasons before helping lift the program to the CCHA playoffs last season and a fourth-place conference finish - along with 14 weeks in the national top-10 rankings - during '98-'99.
Two of the primary leaders to the program's resurgence have been senior forwards Brian Urick and Aniket Dhadphale, whose offensive prowess have helped the Irish post a huge two-year improvement in the crucial areas of goals per game (from 2.63 to 3.09) and power-play percentage (from .127 to .200). In 183 combined career games, Urick (55G-67A) and Dhadphale (61-44) have combined for 227 points, 40 power-play goals and 19 game-winning goals. But their impact extends beyond simple statistics. "Players like Brian and Aniket will be remembered as two of the key architects in building this program," predicts fourth-year head coach Dave Poulin, a member of the last Irish team that played host to the CCHA playoffs and the last Irish team that advanced to the CCHA semifinals ('81-'82).
"Brian has been a tremendous all-around player throughout his four years and has become a tremendous leader for this program, as our captain," says Poulin. "Aniket also has made huge strides in his overall game but that is often overlooked because of what a pure goalscorer he is. And a player that can put the puck in the net is a big commodity at the highest levels of hockey.
"I don't know how you can discuss the top college forwards in the country this year without mentioning Urick and Dhadphale." As the first Notre Dame classmates since 1993 to eclipse 100 career points, Urick and Dhadphale have spent portions of the past two seasons teamed with junior center Ben Simon-forming a talented threesome that has combined for 106 points in '98-'99.
Urick has ranked among Notre Dame's top two scorers throughout his career, with season point totals of 26, 26, 34 and 37. The leader of a current Minnesota contingent that includes 10 players on the '98-'99 team roster, Urick's 13 career game-winning goals are tied for first in Irish history with Poulin. He ranks third among CCHA players in '98-'99 with a +23 plus-minus and is two games shy of becoming the 10th Irish player ever to appear in 145-plus career games (with just four career games missed). Despite such a strong four-year career, Urick very well could have ended up at another "UND", as his college decision came down to Notre Dame and North Dakota, the '97 NCAA champion and the nation's current No. 1-ranked team.
"It was a hard decision," recalls Urick. "My mom (Chris) wanted me to go to Notre Dame and my dad (Joe) wanted me to go to North Dakota-he was a big fan of the WCHA. But he has totally supported me and has come over to the CCHA side.
"I just really liked the campus and the people. (Notre Dame assistant coach) Tom Carroll was one of my main reasons for me coming here. He was really open and friendly-I knew I could trust him." Urick's game has seen noteworthy improvements, particularly in more disciplined play on the ice. He totaled 66 penalty minutes as a freshman and 88 as a sophomore, before slicing his PIM total to 40 as a junior and 43 this season.
"The drop in penalties was an important improvement for me," he says. "The first two years, there were a lot of frustration penalties because of how many games we were losing. I've also learned to play defense more-you don't do much of that in Minnesota high school hockey." Urick's Irish career had a noteworthy beginning, as he scored four goals at Alaska Fairbanks in his first career CCHA game. Although he may one day tell his grandchildren about that big goalscoring day, the Irish captain now is willing to laugh about the reality of that four-goal game. "The first goal was sort of a garbage goal on a rebound and the second one was on bad-angle slapshot where the goalie wasn't looking," explains Urick. "On the third goal, the puck went off one of their player's skates and they gave me the goal because I was the closest. The fourth one was a breakaway, so at least it was legitimate. To be honest, the four goals wasn't as great as it sounds-it was more luck than anything else." Like many of his current teammates, Urick also excelled at baseball during his pre-Notre Dame days. An all-state first baseman, he posted a .537 career batting average at Minnetonka High School while also totaling 67 career goals and 63 assists for the school's hockey team. "Baseball was the number-one sport at my high school and I had a couple good years playing baseball there," says Urick. "The hand-eye coordination is similar to hockey, but there's a lot more time in baseball spent on mentally thinking what you are going to do next.."
While Urick was busy with his two-sport prep career, Dhadphale was fine-tuning his hockey skills in the upper-peninsula city of Marquette, Mich. He totaled 105 goals in 107 career midget AAA games before playing one year of junior hockey in Ontario with the Stratford Cullitons. But Dhadphale's fortuitous career as a hockey "sniper" may never have included a single goal, if his parents Prakash and Alka had not moved from their native India to England and then on to Ann Arbor, Mich., in 1974 (where
Aniket was born, in '76, before the family moved to Marquette). In fact, the formative years of Notre Dame's fifth all-time leading power-play goalscorer could have been spent in England ... which will never be considered an international hockey hotbed. "Growing up in Marquette is what made me the hockey player I am today," says Dhadphale. "It's weird to think how different my life would be if my parents had stayed in England. I probably would've ended up playing cricket or something like that."
In addition to his legacy as a goalscorer, Dhadphale will go down as one of the toughest names to pronounce in CCHA history. Public address announcers have fashioned pronunciations ranging from "Daffapail" to "Dudepole" to "Dadfail"-and that doesn't include mistakes on his first name. But through it all, Dhadphale has kept focused on what he does best-scoring goals.
"The problems with my name have been with me ever since I was growing up," says Dhadphale, whose Irish teammates simply call him "Neak" or "Neaker" while his high school nickname was "duffer", because of his sub-standard golf game.
Like Urick, Dhadphale has grown as both a player and a person during the past four years.
"I remember our freshman year, nobody really knew how good Aniket was going to be," recalls Urick. "He was real quiet and not real intense-Aniket never will be a guy with a lot of ulcers. But then he scored in his first game (at UAF) and has been putting the puck in the net ever since."
Dhadphale had a solid freshman season, when he led the Irish with 13 goals, but then suffered a sophomore slump in which he totaled just five goals on 109 shots. He rebounded with 25 goals as a junior and ranked eighth among CCHA players with 18 goals in the '98-'99 regular season. "That second year was tough, because I had my chances," says Dhadphale. "But things got better and I was able to get to the net more. Overall, my defense has made a big improvement and I've been killing penalties-something I never thought I'd be doing. I've also become a more well-rounded person, because I really kept to myself a lot during my freshman year."
Despite often being tagged as a one-dimensional, "garbage-goal" scorer, Dhadphale has proven that he can score from all over the ice. "I've had to score more from the outside this year, because teams are looking for me in close," he says. "I've put in some extra work on my slapshots and it's helped make me a more complete player." A five-time Dean's List student with a 3.40 cumulative GPA as a finance major, Dhadphale also has been nominated for Academic All-America honors. "The academics are really challenging and have provided a great foundation for me," he says. "It's been more than I could ask for." This weekend's action holds added significance for Dhadphale, who grew up just minutes from the NMU campus while playing youth hockey with four current members of the Wildcats. One of those players, Roger Trudeau, had a large outdoor rink that was a favorite place for the local youngsters to hone their skills.
"We played a lot of games on that rink over and a lot of the success that we each have had is related," says Dhadphale. "They all are still good friends of mine and we keep in touch a lot. But once you step on the ice, it's just another team."
Dhadphale's mellow personality can be traced to his upper-peninsula roots. "There's not much to do in Marquette, besides hockey and skiing, ice fishing and hunting. It's real relaxed and laid-back," he says. "People from a big city couldn't relate to a place like Marquette. But the people there are really nice, hard-working people. And hockey is very big. When I go home, a lot of people say hi and ask how our season is going." As they look back on their Notre Dame careers, Urick and Dhadphale are grateful for the unwavering support provided by their parents, who have missed just a handful of the team's 147 games thus far. And they look forward to possible playing against each other during their pro hockey careers. But, ultimately, they are most appreciative of what the journey has taught them.
"Being at the low end of things makes you realize how nice the high points are," says Urick. "My experience during my four years here has helped me mature as a person, by being able to see the highs and the lows, and I wouldn't change a thing. The losing early on was tough, but it makes you a stronger person and it makes you cherish the winning so much more. "Looking back at my freshman year, if you told me that I was going to be the captain of a nationally-ranked team during my senior year, I would have been thrilled. It's been great to be a part of building this program-that's something our class can always take pride in."