October 24, 2002
West Notebook

Irish awakening: Notre Dame's promising start

By Mike Eidelbes

It’s a big weekend for Notre Dame. Off to an unbeaten start for the first time in a while. Putting that unblemished record on the line against FSU.

We’re not talking about Tyrone Willingham’s troops facing Florida State in Tallahassee, however. Dave Poulin’s icers are 3-0-1 on the young season, their best start since 1998-99. The Fighting Irish welcome Ferris State to the Joyce Center for a two-game series that could set the tone for the rest of the year for both teams.

And while Poulin downplays the weekend set against the 3-1 Bulldogs “As a coach, you’re allowed to sit in your office and think macro, but as a team you’ve got to keep it very, very micro” he does recognize the importance of continued early-season success.

Notre Dame's Evan Nielsen

“We’ve struggled out of the gate in past years and we put a lot of emphasis on the start this year," said Poulin, now in his eighth season at Notre Dame. "There seems to be a carryover in momentum that's more significant with winning four games in October than winning four games in December.”

The recipe to Notre Dame’s early success? Start with a veteran defensive corps led by senior captain Evan Nielsen, who boasts a +6 plus-minus rating through four games. Add a balanced scoring attack in which 10 skaters have posted three or more points. Mix in experience in goal, as sophomore Morgan Cey and senior Tony Zasowski have combined to post a .913 saves percentage. Top it all off with terrific power play. that has scored six goals in 25 man-advantage opportunities.

Poulin says there are areas the team could stand to improve, but it’s not what you might think. The 12-year National Hockey League veteran says his charges need to get better at playing with poise in different situations.

“We’ve been in a one-goal game, we’ve been in a game where we’ve had a big lead,” said Poulin. “Just learning to handle situations as this team...this is a different team than we had last year. To change any number of components makes it a different team, and they’ve got to grow together as a team and be able to handle each situation that arises.”

And while the campus is football mad for the time being, Poulin doesn’t mind. In fact, he says the success of the Fighting Irish gridders has provided a spark for the close-knit Notre Dame community.

“This is a small campus,“ explains Poulin, “and because it’s a residence campus, in that 84 percent of the kids live on campus, you’re right there. (Senior forward) Jake Wiegand lived with (starting strong safety) Gerome Sapp for three years, and is real good buddies with (starting noseguard) Cedric Hilliard. A bunch of the guys are buddies with these guys. That energy is contagious.”


Quick and no looking who’s the leading goal scorer in the WCHA? Troy Riddle? Nah. Ryan Malone? Nope. Peter Sejna? You’re getting warmer...

It’s actually Colorado College defenseman Tom Preissing. The senior captain from Rosemount, Minn., has six goals in four games, one better than North Dakota’s Zach Parise and teammate Sejna. Three of those tallies came in the Tigers’ shutout wins against Maine and Iona at the Nye Frontier Classic in Anchorage last weekend.

Not bad for a guy who entered the year with a total of 16 goals. In fact, he’s already equaled his career high for goals in a season - Preissing scored a half-dozen markers as a sophomore and again as a junior.

“It’s still real early in the season, but I would’ve been the last person I thought would’ve been leading the league in goals,” said Preissing, who was named WCHA Defensive Player of the Week Monday. “I’ve been the benefactor of some very good passing. There’s no real secret formula. I’ve been shooting the puck and it’s been going in for me.”

Preissing leads a veteran defensive corps that is the Tigers’ strength this season. Coach Scott Owens welcomed back five regulars from last season. The lone rookie is highly-touted freshman Mark Stuart. CC trotted out six newcomers at forward in both games of the Anchorage tournament.

“ Against Mass.-Lowell, we struggled defensively,” said Preissing of CC’s split with the RiverHawks in Colorado Springs to open the season. “That was disappointing. Last week in practice, before we went to Anchorage, we stressed a lot of defense. As a team we take a lot of pride in defense not just the defensemen, but the forwards too.”

It was a team effort in the 3-0 win against Maine Friday, as the Tigers allowed the Black Bears to fire just 21 shots at goaltender Curtis McElhinney. Iona mustered a mere 13 shots in a 5-0 loss to CC the following night as senior netminder Gian Baldrica earned his first career win.

Colorado College, picked to finish fourth in this year’s WCHA coaches preseason poll, has a good shot to be atop the conference at the holiday break. The team’s next three league series are at Minnesota-Duluth, then back-to-back home sets against Michigan Tech and Alaska Anchorage. Non-conference games against Air Force and Mercyhurst precede a home-and-home series against Denver. The Tigers close out the first half of the season with a pair of games at MSU-Mankato and a home series against Western Michigan.

“We were picked to win the WCHA (last season) and promptly lost our first five league games of the year,” Preissing said. “It’s a nice change of pace to be saying ‘Hey, we can beat these guys’ instead of everyone gunning for us.”


About two hours after Michigan State suffered its worst loss in years a 10-4 defeat at Northern Michigan the Spartan coaching staff decided not to let the team dwell on the loss overnight. Instead, they summoned the players to a meeting at 12:01 a.m. Saturday, the earliest the team could convene to review game tape per NCAA rules.

Things People Say

“We have a joke about having a family belt for ping pong and a family belt for golf. I remember when the boys were 15 and 16 and they started beating their old man in ping pong and golf. I would chase them around (the ping pong table) after they beat me...I would try to catch them and wrestle with them. But now I can’t catch them either. – Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves, on his sons, who play for Boston College. The Badgers meet the Eagles at Conte Forum Friday.

“Hey, did Bob Vila build this place?” – Michigan Tech captain Brett Englehardt, walking into St. Lawrence’s Appleton Arena, which is constructed entirely of wood, for the first time.

"You're shorthanded and you end up two-on-one on a PK? That's not going to happen every day." Nebraska-Omaha forward David Brisson, who assisted on Scotty Turner’s game-winning shorthanded goal with 31 seconds left in regulation in Friday’s 3-2 win vs. Miami.

Based on the results of the session, coach Rick Comley may want to consider meeting in the wee hours following every game. MSU rebounded its Friday night drubbing, salvaging a series split with a 3-1 victory Saturday.

“At first we didn’t really know what to expect,” said sophomore forward Jim Slater of the meeting. “Coach was really easygoing and wanted to know what we thought of the game and if we had any say about what to do (Saturday). He took everyone’s comments and figured something out.”

The Spartans defensive effort was much better Saturday, allowing just 18 shots on goal after giving up 39 the previous night.

“Any time you have a game like that, the best thing you can do is go over it and talk about exactly what you can do,” senior defenseman John-Michael Liles explained. “You can’t just let it sit there and question what went wrong. You’ve got to look for things on tape you can do differently. It definitely helped. It definitely made some people aware of the things that needed to be corrected.”

Granted, the Spartans still have some issues to address they’ve been outscored 15-4 in two Friday games and only two of their nine goals have been scored by forwards. But their next seven games are against Lake Superior State, Niagara, Ohio State and Bowling Green. Plus, Liles says the team is close to turning the corner.

“We’re making the jump to getting the systems down,” he said. “Doing it without thinking about it. The only thing that’s going to make it better is by playing more games. Once we get that down, we’re going to be pretty damn good.”


Last week, Michigan announced it would replace the natural turf in Michigan Stadium with an artificial surface in time for the 2003 football season. The news was good for Wolverine gridders - the grass has been a continual problem since it was installed in 1991. It might also open the door for Cold War II between Michigan and Michigan State at the Big House.

"Michigan Athletic Director Bill Martin said in an interview with the Detroit Free Press that an artificial field would allow U-M to hold concerts, hockey games and other events in Michigan Stadium," said Wolverine hockey sports information director Paul Thomas. "That signifies a possibility to me."

Last year's Cold War game attracted a world-record hockey crowd of 74,554 to Spartan Stadium in East Lansing. Michigan Stadium seats 107,501.

"It was just so much fun, an unbelievable atmosphere, when we had it here," said MSU sophomore defenseman Duncan Keith. "If we could play in a game with 110,000 fans, it would be just that much more fun."

The NHL is currently evaluating a proposal that would allow the Edmonton Oilers host the Calgary Flames at 60,000-seat Commonwealth Stadium. During last year's Cold War, the Detroit Red Wings were rumored to be interested in playing a game in a venue such as Comerica Park, the home of baseball's Tigers, or the Lions' new facility, Ford Field.


The Central Collegiate Hockey Association became the first league to sign a programming deal with the National College Sports Network, giving the outlet the rights to cover CCHA regular-season games and playoff contests. The agreement was announced last week.

“College hockey is one of the best-kept secrets in sports and it’s exciting to see NCSN step up to provide added visibility and profile for more CCHA teams,” said Tom Anastos, the league‘s commissioner. “This agreement...will broaden the reach of college hockey.”

The CCHA currently has a broadcast agreement with Fox Sports Net Detroit.

NCSN was co-founded by the team that created Classic Sports Network, which was purchased by ESPN and is now known as ESPN Classic. NCSN is tentatively scheduled to launch early next year. The network has obtained broadcast rights to 21 other conferences in addition to the CCHA.


Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves was named the 2002 Developmental Coach of the Year by the United States Olympic Committee last week.

Eaves, who spent two seasons at the coach of the U.S. National Under-18 team, led the group to the IIHF World Championship last spring, marking the first time an American team captured a gold medal in an international competition other than the Olympics since 1933.

“Coaching is a tough business and there are very few times when a coach is rewarded,” said Eaves. “This confirms that you‘re doing the right things as a coach.”


Potulny may miss season Minnesota forward Grant Potulny, who was originally supposed to miss up to six weeks after breaking his left leg against Ohio State Oct. 12, now could be out up to four months after ligament damage was discovered. A fifth-round pick of the Ottawa Senators in the 2000 NHL Draft, there was speculation Potulny would redshirt this season, but coach Don Lucia says he‘ll play if he can come back by January. The issue may be revisited depending on the progress of Potulny’s rehabilitation or if a suitable replacement emerges.

The Gophers are talented enough to replace his scoring. Whether they can replace Potulny’s grit, effort and determination is another story.

Three Great Weekend Getaways

1. Ferris State at Notre Dame
We've mentioned Notre Dame's quick start above, and you can read about Ferris State's Chris Kunitz on the right. Should one team manage a sweep this weekend, they'd be well on their way to a solid first half. While you're there: In order to get the full Notre Dame experience, you must visit four places. Three – the Grotto, the Golden Dome and Touchdown Jesus – are on campus. The fourth is Corby's, a bar in downtown South Bend. Scenes from the movie "Rudy" were filmed there.

2. Clarkson at Ohio State The Golden Knights are playing their first games of the season. The Buckeyes are playing their first home games of the season. Because of Saturday's OSU-Penn State football game, it's a Friday-Sunday series. Think Clarkson will spend the off day at the Horseshoe.
3. Alaska Fairbanks at Michigan The Nanooks were the surprise team of the CCHA last season, but are off to a slow start this season. Doesn't matter. They've earned splits in each of their last two trips to Yost.

Bad break for Boeser Wisconsin defenseman Dan Boeser is out indefinitely after breaking a bone in his hand Friday vs. Alabama-Huntsville. The junior from Savage, Minn., was diagnosed with non-Hodgins lymphoma during the summer. Boeser underwent a series of 20 radiation treatments in August and September to get rid of the cancer, and was in the lineup for the Badgers’ season opener vs. Rensselaer Oct. 11.

Look at us, Sports Illustrated Ferris State forward Chris Kunitz is the latest recipient of the INCH Measures Up karma. The Bulldog senior was named CCHA Offensive Player of the Week after scoring two goals and four assists in a 10-1 win against Bowling Green Friday, then adding a pair of goals Saturday as FSU earned a sweep of the Falcons. The first player we featured in our Q&A section, Ben Eaves of Boston College, has a goal and six assists in the Eagles’ first three games.

Wayne’s world Defending College Hockey America champion Wayne State opens its 2002-03 campaign this weekend as they host St. Lawrence for a two-game series. The Warriors currently own the nation’s longest unbeaten streak at 12 games.

CHA-cha-cha CHA schools have a combined 5-9-2 record so far this season. Included in those five wins, however, are three victories against Canisius (two by Air Force, one by Niagara) and a Niagara triumph over Air Force in the Lefty McFadden Classic in Dayton, Ohio.

“C” you real soon Ohio State’s next three opponents, all from the ECAC and all visiting Columbus - Clarkson (a Friday-Sunday series this weekend), Cornell (Nov. 1) and Colgate (Nov. 3). Hey, John Markell, why didn’t you schedule Canisius, Connecticut and Colorado College?

Bus(t) a move Last week, this notebook featured Denver and the Pioneers’ bus trip from the Mile High City to Omaha for the Maverick Stampede. Michigan Tech traveled 17 hours one way from Houghton to Canton, N.Y., for a two-game series against St. Lawrence. The Huskies left around 6 p.m. Wednesday evening and rolled into the Appleton Arena parking lot around 11:20 a.m. Thursday just in time for the team’s practice, scheduled to begin 10 minutes later.

You be the judge Forward Kevin Porter, a member of the USNTDP Under-17 team, verbally committed to Michigan Oct. 11. Two days later, Mike Porter, a senior defenseman at Michigan State and Kevin’s older brother, is cut from the team by Comley. Coincidence?

Trophy netminder A Division III note from INCH correspondent Joe Gladziszewski. Wisconsin-River Falls the school where George Gwozdecky of Denver and ex-Alaska Anchorage bench boss Dean Talafous got their head coachings starts boasts a goaltender named Jacque Vezina. No pressure there, eh? At least his parents didn’t name him Georges.


More gems from Friday’s 10-4 Michigan State loss to Northern Michigan:

  • The Spartans allowed 10 goals, which is one fewer than Ryan Miller gave up in a stretch of 12 starts from Jan. 5-Feb. 10, 2001, the year he won the Hobey Baker Award.
  • MSU sophomore forward Kevin Estrada had a -6 plus-minus rating in Friday’s game. The Spartans had no player rated lower than -3 for the entire 2001-02 season.


Nashville Predators: Recalled forward Adam Hall (Michigan State) from Milwaukee of the AHL.

Washington Capitals: Assigned forward Matt Pettinger (Denver) to Portland of the AHL

A variety of sources were utilized in the compilation of this report.

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