The Fighting Irish ended the 2003-04 season with a 5-2 loss to Minnesota in the NCAA Midwest Regional semifinal, marking Notre Dame’s first NCAA tournament appearance and the last game for six sensational Irish players.
“Five of them you know very well,” says Poulin. “One of them you don’t know very well.” T.J. Mathieson was told at the start of his senior season that he probably wouldn’t see any game time, but the defenseman decided to skate with the team anyway. “He played one game, graduated, finished with a 4.0 — the highest-rated aerospace engineer at the school.
“When the season was over, he flew immediately down to Nashville and cut a CD with his band,” says Poulin. “He had four elite job offers in aerospace engineering [and] went to Northrop Grumman in California. He wants to be the first hockey-playing astronaut. He’s already met with NASA.”
It’s a nice story. It’s also typical of Notre Dame hockey’s class of 2004. They were all overachievers, and they will be missed.
Rob Globke (14-14-28) and Aaron Gill (10-17-27) were together responsible for one-third of Notre Dame’s overall goal production last season. Defensemen Tom Glavin, Neil Komadoski, and Brett Lebda were household names.
“They took us to our first NCAA tournament and their leadership on and off the ice will be missed without question,” says Poulin.
Like Miami and Ohio State, two other top-tier teams that lost big, talented senior classes, the Fighting Irish are hoping that balance will fill the skates of the recently departed.
“Up front, we have a staggered captain group,” says Poulin. Senior forward Cory McLean (9-11-20) will wear the C and is the team’s second top returning scorer. Top returning scorer, junior winger Mike Walsh (8-9-17), and sophomore Jason Paige (9-6-15) are the alternate captains.
“We certainly won’t have the tilt to our team, offensively, with Aaron Gill and Rob Globke [gone] … but I think that we’ll have a nice, balanced group,” says Poulin.
The Irish will miss more than just Gill and Globke up front; those three defenders, Lebda, Komadoski, and Glavin, were the fifth, sixth, and seventh scorers for Notre Dame, respectively. That means that the Irish are returning just five of their top point-getters from a year ago, and none of them Numbers 1 or 2.
Like the Nanooks, the Irish have two candidates on the same ticket. In fact, they have two in the same position.
Sophomore goaltender David Brown (2.19 GAA, .929 SV%) is absolutely the real deal. “David Brown’s freshman year was certainly terrific,” says Poulin. No argument here.
Then there’s senior Morgan Cey (2.77 GAA, .904 SV%), “returning healthier than he’s been his four years,” says Poulin, who adds that he has a “nice, albeit hard” decision regarding the position in net.
Red or Blue?
This year, Notre Dame draws the tough cluster that includes Michigan and Michigan State as well as perennial rival Bowling Green. Points won’t be easy to get among these four teams because goals won’t be easy to get in this cluster.
That is bad news for the Irish, unless the balance Poulin values includes an influx of goals from newcomers in addition to stepped-up production from the veterans.
And as bad as that news is for Notre Dame, the bigger problem may be the blueline. Since the core of a very good Fighting Irish defense is gone this year, Brown and Cey may be seeing a lot of shots — as in Jordan Sigalet totals.
Of course, most rookies are veterans by midseason, and if Notre Dame can weather its tough first-half schedule — a weekend in Oxford and home-and-home series with Bowling Green, Michigan, and Michigan State — the Irish will make another run at the Super Six.
Of course, that’s not the only goal. “I am looking forward to following the group of six departing seniors in that they’ve raised the bar,” says Poulin. “They’ve raised my expectations at Notre Dame, which were pretty high to start with.
“They’ve raised the team expectations, and we now have a banner in our building … that says ‘NCAA competitor,’ and that’s terrific for us. There’s only one year, 2004, but we’re hoping to add more.”