CCHA Player Watch Part 2 – Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Our look at the top players to watch in the CCHA continues with an analysis of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Under head coach Dave Poulin, the Irish have improved considerably, but this season may be a true breakthrough year for the team. Notre Dame has 17 letterwinners returning from its CCHA semi-finals squad of last season, including several players who are finally coming into their own. The Irish have 10 players on their roster who have played either with the USA Hockey National Team Development Program or the U.S. World Junior squad. Notre Dame has more players from the NTDP on its roster than any other school in college hockey. A good recruiting class helped bolster that impressive number over the summer and should keep the Irish strong in the years to come. Seniors Dan Carlson and Ryan Dolder will be the clear leaders on this young team and should also be among the team’s top scorers. Carlson led the Irish in scoring with 17 goals and 18 assists for 35 points in 42 games. Carlson is undersized at 5-9 and 190 pounds, but he is very strong for his stature. He plays in all situations and shows some of his best work for the power play, where he is an excellent playmaker and is often the Notre Dame point man. Dobler is a former walk-on who is now the team captain. He is a 6-0 195-pound left wing and while his offensive production is limited, his leadership and work ethic are critical to the team’s success. Dobler scored 10 goals and added 14 assists for 24 points last season.
The true key to success for the Irish will be the continued development of its underclassmen. Sophomores Connor Dunlop, Evan Nielsen and Michael Chin are returning after solid freshman seasons. Dunlop, a 5-10 180-pound center, finished sixth in team scoring last season and earned a spot on the U.S. World Junior squad last winter. Like several others on the roster, Dunlop is a product of the U.S. NTDP. He is a crafty player and good playmaker, but had trouble scoring goals at the collegiate level. He tallied just three goals compared to 13 assists during his freshman season, and his scoring percentage was an enemic 5.6% If he can gain a scoring touch to go with his excellent passing ability, he could have a breakout year. Nielsen led all Irish defensemen in scoring as a freshman and will be expected to lead the efforts on the blueline this season. Nielsen is a another product of the U.S. NTDP and has good size at 6-2 and 210. He plays a solid two-way game and is used in all situations. He finished the 1999-00 season with four goals and 10 assists for 14 points in 41 games. He was only an eighth round draft pick by the Atlanta Thrashers in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft, but he could be an excellent sleeper pick, especially if his development continues. Chin had a somewhat disappointing season as a freshman. He was one of Notre Dame’s top recruits one year ago and he had just finished a strong season with the U.S. NTDP. However, Chin did not quite have the impact that some expected and he finished the year with six goals and seven assists for 13 points. He has good size at 6-2 210, but will need to step up his offensive production. One of the veterans who will work with this trio of sophomores is David Inman, a junior center who is another player who could make strides this season. Inman, a 6-1 205-pound center and left wing, had 13 goals and seven assists for 20 points last season. Another product of the U.S. NTDP, Inman was second round draft pick of the New York Rangers in 1999. But he has yet to find the success to back up that high selection. Inman has the tools to be a strong two-way player and an excellent scorer at the collegiate level, but he is still a work in progress. One player who is almost guaranteed to make immediate progress is Rob Globke, a highly-touted incoming freshman from the U.S. NTDP. Globke is an outstanding offensive player whose speed and skill could make him one of the most dynamic scorers in college hockey by his sophomore season. Globke was perhaps the biggest recruiting success to date for Poulin, who managed to sign the young forward despite competition from Michigan, Boston College and other top schools. Globke is a 6-2 200-pound right wing who finished third in scoring on the U.S. Under-18 team with 15 goals and 21 assists for 36 points in 54 games last season. He was the youngest regular player on the team and thanks to an accelerated program, he was able to finish high school early and make the jump to college hockey. Globke plays a game that is very similar to that of Tim Connolly and a young Mike Modano. His speed, puckhandling, skating and shooting ability make him a constant threat on the ice. His 200-pound weight might be a bit overstated and he needs to get stronger to handle himself better in the corners. But there is no doubt that Globke will be an impact player at Notre Dame. He will not be eligible until the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, unless he sacrifices his college eligibility and opts into the 2001 draft. If he has the kind of season he is capable of putting together, he might just leave school early. It all depends on how much he can score and how he is ranked by the NHL Central Scouting Bureau. The other top recruit for the Irish is defenseman Neil Komadoski, a teammate of Globke on the U.S. Under-18 team last season. Komadoski was age eligible for the 2000 NHL Entry Draft, but opted to stay his course and play college hockey for now. He was ranked 51st among North American skaters in the 2000 CSB mid-season rankings and if he has a solid freshman year, he should easily move up into the top 30 for 2001. Komadoski has decent size at 6-2 206 and he plays a very steady two-way game. He can also get pretty nasty when called upon, to which his 202 penalty minutes last season are a testament. Offensively, he notched seven goals and eight assists for 15 points with the Under-18 team and was the third-leading scorer from the blueline on the team. He has no glaring weaknesses and if he can continue to improve, he could be a very solid NHL prospect. While the forwards and defensemen try to step up their games, sophomore goaltender Tony Zasowski will be the backbone of the Notre Dame squad this season. Zasowski had a very impressive freshman season for the Irish. He set a school record with a goals against average of 2.56 and turned in an impressive .901 save percentage. He has quick reflexes and a good glove hand, which he uses to complement his 5-11, 195-pound frame. He was a big factor in Notre Dame’s run to the CCHA semi-finals last season and could develop into one of the better goaltenders in the CCHA. Much of the team’s success could rest on his shoulders this season The Irish might be another year or two away from being a serious threat in the CSHA, but Dave Poulin has continue to slowly build the program. His success in recruiting top flight players from USA Hockey almost guarantees the team respectability for the next few seasons. Whether Notre Dame can improve beyond that and become league champions will depend on how those players develop.