Of all the players competing for the
CCHA championship this weekend at Joe Louis Arena,
Notre Dame senior defenseman Noah Babin might be the
only one who would be just as comfortable dodging
sharks in South America as pulling on a Sharks sweater.
The self-described surfer dude from
Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., is as laid-back as they
come in college hockey, which means he won’t
be feeling much pressure as the top-seeded Fighting
Irish take on coach Jeff Jackson’s old team,
Lake Superior State, in Friday’s early semifinal.
(Archrivals Michigan and Michigan State collide in
We chatted with Babin, who received
all-CCHA honorable mention after registering two goals
and 19 assists in 38 games, on Tuesday night. He had
a lot to say — in his own hang-loose way —
about birthdays, facial hair, shirtless fathers, and
the Irish’s improbably terrific season:
Inside College Hockey: How
are you guys feeling heading into the Joe?
Noah Babin: Oh, pretty good. It’s
a big deal, but I think we’re just approaching
it as any other weekend. We’ve been playing
pretty well all season, we just have to do it better
now. We’re pretty comfortable.
INCH: You say it’s
a big deal, but with your bid to the NCAA tournament
already locked up, is it really?
NB: Well, that’s true. But with
Notre Dame never having won the CCHA tournament, I
think we feel we have a responsibility to do it this
year. I think we’d be a little upset as a team
if we didn’t get that done for the school.
INCH: OK, so what’s
been the difference in Notre Dame this season. How
did you go from bad to good so quickly?
NB: It’s just everything. It’s
nothing and it’s everything at the same time.
I think it starts with the coaching staff and just
goes on down from there. Everybody’s doing their
part, nobody’s selfish, everybody’s doing
what they can for the team. We’re all pretty
comfortable. We have great chemistry.
INCH: Before we move on,
you had a birthday on Sunday, right?
NB: Yeah. 23. I’m freakin’
INCH: Do anything special?
NB: Nah, just the same old stuff. I’m
not a big birthday guy. I even forgot about mine last
year. My mom called to wish me a good one, and I was
like, “What are you talking about?” She
said, “It’s your birthday,” and
I was like, “Oh, yeah.” So now if I forget
anyone’s birthday, they can’t feel bad
because I forgot my own.
INCH: Your season was over
by your birthday last year, right?
NB: Yeah, me and some of the guys were
actually on Spring Break down in my house in Florida.
INCH: That’s right.
You’re missing Spring Break this year, eh?
NB: Yeah, but I’m doing the best
I can. Today, I was bored and looking out the window
and noticed how nice of a day it was, so I called
(defenseman) Wes O’Neill up and said, “We’re
going somewhere.” We wound up driving to New
Buffalo (Mich.) and went to a little surf shop up
there. Just bought a few things and shot the (poop)
with the people who work there. It was crazy because
I had never been near a body of water with ice on
INCH: You’re talking
about Lake Michigan?
NB: Yeah. I was trippin’ out because
I’m looking out at it, and there’s pieces
of ice floating by. Of course, I had to go in and
check it out.
Record: 29-6-3 (21-4-3 CCHA)
Irish note: Notre
Dame has not won a playoff game at the Joe since
an 8-5 semifinal victory over Bowling Green
How ND wins:
Keep opposing shot totals down, especially against
whichever team it would play in the final. (The
good news is it’s St. Patrick’s
Day.) The Irish are adequate offensively, but
a track meet doesn’t suit their strengths.
2 Michigan Record: 25-12-1 (18-9-1
Wolverine note: With
T.J Hensick (62), Kevin Porter (53), Andrew
Cogliano (47) and Chad Kolarik (44), U-M has
four 40-point scorers for the first time since
How U-M wins: Against
MSU, use speed and skill to dominate puck possession.
Overall, protect goalie Billy Sauer with sound
positional defense and attentive backchecking.
Michigan State Record: 21-12-3 (15-10-3
MSU didn’t have a single player make the
all-CCHA teams (not even honorable mention)
nor were any Spartans finalists for any of the
CCHA’s major year-end awards.
How MSU wins: Establish
a low cycle to wear down the other team’s
defense. Goals are hard to come by for State,
so make chances count and give goalie Jeff Lerg
a fighting chance.
8 Lake Superior State Record: 21-17-3 (11-14-3
Laker note: Fans
can send messages to the team at email@example.com,
and the good wishes will be delivered to the
Lakers before Friday’s game.
How LSSU wins: Make
their own breaks through hard work. Jeff Jakaitis
will keep them in any game as long as he’s
not left out to dry. The bigger issue is scoring.
Be strong on the puck and bear down.
INCH: You went in the lake?
NB: I didn’t get submerged or
anything, but I got my feet wet. They were numb after
about a minute.
INCH: So Wes will go along
on these adventures with you, huh?
NB: Heck yeah. We’re second-semester
seniors. We’ve been around for a while, and
we’re getting the payoff now — which is
a light, light class load.
INCH: You’re just
a straight-up surfer dude, huh?
NB: Yeah, I kind of just go with the
flow. I think I’m getting a little more hockey
player in me lately, though.
INCH: What does that mean?
NB: Meaner. You know, I’ve always
been told that I don’t hit enough, but I think
I’m doing more of that now. Off the ice, I’m
more surfer than hockey player, though.
INCH: You get to surf much?
NB: As much as I can, which isn’t
a lot. Depending on what happens with hockey, I’m
planning a trip to Peru this summer, and the surfing
is really good there. I’ve been to Costa Rica
a couple of summers. I read somewhere that Joe Sakic
and one of the other Avs like to go surfing in California.
I’d like to take ’em on. If I can’t
beat them in hockey, I’ll beat them in surfing,
INCH: So how did you wind
up going from Florida to Notre Dame?
NB: I guess the hockey bug just kind
of bit our family. We had a rink like two miles from
our house, and I was a rink rat. I was there every
day. I got lucky enough to be pushed by some of the
older guys to go up north and give hockey a shot.
My family and I thought it would just be for a year
and then I’d come back. But I played a couple
of years in Michigan and then I got signed by the
U.S. Under-18 program.
I had no idea what it was at the time,
I just found myself on it. Then it kind of sunk in
that it’s the best players in the country and
getting a college scholarship is almost automatic
on that team. I was damn happy. I figured that if
I could go to college for playing hockey, I would
use it to go to the best college I could, and Notre
Dame fit in there.
INCH: That means you were
recruited by Dave Poulin. What are the differences
between him and coach Jackson?
NB: Man, it’s just two completely
different styles of coaching. Coach Poulin is more
of an NHL-style coach, from what I’ve heard,
in that he’s a little less hands-on, a little
less coaching, more responsibility on the players.
Coach Jackson is the total opposite. He’s involved
with everything in our lives. He’s everywhere.
INCH: And that works for
NB: It’s been an interesting year.
We didn’t get along to well at first because
I can’t stand being told what to do, but I’ve
grown to love him as a coach. We both had to learn
to trust each other, and now everything’s great.
INCH: Do you ever worry,
given the CCHA’s lack of national success recently,
that you guys aren’t as good as you seem? That
the East and the West are way better, you just don’t
NB: Yeah, that’s a concern. I
go back home to Florida and people ask how we do against
the Minnesotas and New Hampshires and stuff, because
that’s who they know is good at hockey. And,
you know, we haven’t played them yet. But I
know all of us really want to play teams
like that, just to test ourselves and see how good
we are. People here are pretty excited about that
chance coming up.
INCH: You guys doing the
NB: (Laughs.) Definitely. A few are
trying, and there are some pretty ugly attempts.
INCH: From the freshmen?
NB: No, some older guys. (Senior) Mike
Bartlett is battling as hard as he can, but he just
doesn’t have the facial hair to do it. Mine’s
looking good. I’m happy with it. A lot of the
guys’ girlfriends say they look good. I’m
thinking mine could be a Bret Hedican soon.
INCH: Are you guys doing
anything from an X’s and O’s standpoint
that has led to your success this season?
NB: (Laughs.) X’s and O’s.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone more
intense than our coaches about X’s and O’s
in my life. On a weekly basis, I die laughing in amazement
at how much they put into it. Video reviews. Scouting
the other team. It absolutely helps us out. They’re
INCH: What do you think
about your semifinal opponent, Lake Superior State?
NB: They’re a tough team to play
against. They’re a lot like us, super patient,
super smart with the puck.
INCH: What’s the funniest
thing that has happened this hockey season? (Babin
called back after the initial interview because he
forgot this anecdote initially.)
NB: The funniest thing that happened
all year was that at one of our games, all of our
dads took off their shirts in the middle of the game
and stood right behind other team’s goal and
had I-R-I-S-H painted on their chests. That made it
really difficult to play. If I didn’t tell you
that, somebody would kick my ass, so I did it. That’s
it. Sorry for calling you back.
INCH: OK, last question.
Go a little psychoanalytical here. Sum up each of
your four seasons at Notre Dame in one word, starting
with your freshman year.
NB: Freshman year would have to be “confused.”
I was stupid as hell. Sophomore year: “Bummer.”
INCH: A good surfer word.
NB: Yeah. Junior would definitely be
“rebuilding.” And this year, “fantastic.”
Everything’s been great.
James Jahnke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.