November 21, 1998
The University of Notre Dame hockey team has signed two Illinois natives-right wing Michael Chin (Urbana) and defenseman Evan Nielsen Evanston--to national letters of intent during the fall signing period, head coach Dave Poulin announced today.
"These two players meet two crucial needs for us, in providing a proven goalscorer and a skilled defenseman," said Poulin, who is in the midst of his fourth season as head coach of his alma mater. "What's nice about recruiting this year as opposed to previous years is that we know our personnel better and have a clearer idea what we need. The class is still not complete and we have some needs to address, so we should sign a couple more players in the spring."
The addition of Chin and Nielsen would give the 1998-99 Irish roster six players from Illinois, with the others including current junior defenseman Sean Molina (Skokie), junior right wing John Dwyer (Winnetka), sophomore right wing Matt Van Arkel (Richton Park) freshman goaltender Jeremiah Kimento (Palos Hills).
Notre Dame-which is 9-1-2 and ranked fourth nationally heading into tonight's game at No. 8 Michigan-is set to lose six seniors from the current squad, including four regular members of the starting lineup. Those players include team captain and right wing Brian Urick (50 goals, 54 assists in 123 career games), left wing Aniket Dhadphale (52 goals, 40 assists in 119 career games), defenseman Benoit Cotnoir (22 goals, 49 assists in 115 career games) and goaltender Forrest Karr (17-12-3 career record, with a 3.09 goals-against average and a .882 save percentage).
Chin and Nielsen both took their official visit to Notre Dame three weeks ago before committing to the Irish earlier this week.
The 6-2, 200-pound Chin, who graduated from Urbana High School in May of '98, currently is the second-leading scorer in the United States Hockey League, with 17 goals and 11 assists while helping the Des Moines (IA) Buccaneers post a record of 14-2. He spent the 1997-98 academic year as a member of the United States under-18 national team in Ann Arbor, Mich., where he was a teammate of current Irish freshman center Brett Henning among the program's 28 forwards. In 28 games with the national program, Chin totaled seven goals and three assists before joining Henning as two of 14 forwards to make the U.S. playoff roster.
"Michael is a great goalscorer who has an inate sense of scoring," said Poulin. "We will have a considerable scoring void by losing Urick and Dhadphale, so Michael will play an important role. He is a big kid with great hands who positions himself well and has a great sense of knowing where to go."
Chin previously played for the Shattuck St. Mary's Midget AAA team (based in Faribault, Minn.) during 1996-97, after playing two seasons for the Illinois-based Northwest Chargers.
Nielsen will begin his second season at The Taft School (Watertown, Conn.) in early December, after spending his first two years at Evanston (Ill.) High School. During his junior season, the 6-2, 195-pound Nielsen had seven goals and six assists while helping Taft place 10th in New England with a record of 14-8. During the summer of '97, he was selected as the best defenseman at the prestigious annual Hockey Night in Boston, where he played as a member of the Midwest all-star team that finished as runner-up.
Nielsen, who played with the Chicago Young Americans as a seventh and eight grader and was named "best team player" at Evanston as a sophomore, had an invitation to train with the U.S. under-18 national team this season but elected to return to Taft. Like Chin, he has past experience playing in the U.S. select-16 and select-17 festivals.
"Evan is a very skilled defenseman and strong skater who has good size and plays smart on the ice," said Poulin. "Adding Evan and Michael reinforces the fact that we've been able to attract some quality players from Illinois over the past couple of years and there's no question that there has been a big increase in the talent level in Illinois."
CHIN: "I wanted to stay close to home and my parents wanted me to go to Notre Dame from the start. I loved my visit on campus and was impressed with many aspects of the hockey program, like the weight training program and the way the team practices. I also liked the friendly coaching staff and the way that the coaches get along with the players. ... I wanted to go to a good academic school as well and I like the fact that the program is one of top in the nation and yet is still on the way up. It's going to be exciting to be a part of that and overall I just felt that Notre Dame would be a good program where I could excel in my hockey career. ... It's always good to have experience around you and I'm looking forward to playing with all the great offensive players at Notre Dame. It's nice to know that the program wants you to come in and do all you can do, but every freshman can't be an all-star. It will be nice to have a lot of veterans helping to lead the way. ... Other parts of the country get a lot of credit for producing college hockey talent but it's great to see that more Illinois kids are getting exposure and getting their shot."
NIELSEN: "I looked at a lot of great schools and great hockey programs. I really liked coach Poulin. The players respect him and he seems like a fair guy. ... It will be great to come back to school in the Midwest. I was attracted to the academic level of Notre Dame and the direction that the hockey program is going. It will be exciting to contribute and be a part of it. ... A big part of my decision was that there will be a core of five senior defensemen on the team next season and I won't have to go in right away and do all sorts of great things. Those older guys can take their experience and pass it on to players like me, which is a great situation for the start of your college career. ... People who pay attention to college hockey can't help but notice how good Notre Dame has become, but there are still a lot of people who don't know how great the program really is. ... I had a good idea from seeing the team play a few weeks ago that they would give the top teams a run for it. I was not surprised that they played well against Boston College and Michigan. Seeing the team's success makes it that much more exciting a situation to come into. ... It's great that more kids are getting the opportunity to go from Illinois and play college hockey. The new junior team (Chicago Freeze) will have a positive impact as well and help make even more Illinois kids get their chance."