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Two-way threat

Justin Schuver | Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Finally able to play consistently, Mike Walsh has been able to show what he’s capable of this season.Walsh, a sophomore forward who is currently third on the Irish with 10 goals, has returned from a difficult freshman year to play a big role on this year’s team. Walsh missed a total of 17 games his rookie year with a broken jaw and mononucleosis, and was never quite able to get any in kind of offensive rhythm.”Playing-wise, it definitely affected my development in making the jump to college and all the speed and everything that changes at the next level,” Walsh said. “And also, with missing so many games early in my freshman year, it kind of isolated me from being with the team and getting to know everyone right away because I’d be spending weeks at a time away from the rink.”His one goal that rookie year was a sign of things to come, however, as Walsh notched the game-winning tally in a 3-2 victory over Lake Superior State on Feb. 21, 2002. This season, Walsh has made a living of scoring big goals.In Notre Dame’s earlier 1-0 victories this season against then-No. 1 Boston College and then-No. 3 Maine, Walsh scored the only goal in each contest.”Growing up and playing big games, I’ve always thought of myself as the kind of person who can be in the right position to score a big goal,” Walsh said. “The people that I play with [on the Irish] really do a lot of work, and a lot of times I’m lucky and the puck just bounces the right way at the right time.”Playing well in big games runs in Walsh’s blood. His father, Max, was a member of the 1963 Irish national championship football team. Despite this gridiron pedigree, Walsh was never really tempted to play on grass rather than ice.”I never played football, but I tried everything else,” Walsh said. “I was never really pressured much by my father to play football, and hockey was the sport I really felt good with early on.”I really picked between hockey and baseball, and in my sophomore year of high school I decided that I wanted to focus on hockey and pursuing that sport full-time.”Walsh graduated from Detroit Catholic High School in Redford, Mich., while also playing minor league hockey for Compuware Ambassadors of the North American Hockey League. He helped lead Compuware to the United States Junior A Championship in 2001-02.Walsh’s exploits impressed Notre Dame coach Dave Poulin, who has used the NAHL as a pipeline for Irish players over the years. Walsh is one of six current Notre Dame players who have played in the NAHL, along with Rob Globke, T.J. Mathieson, Derek Smith, Chris Trick and Jason Paige.There was never any question that Walsh would wear the Irish uniform.”Notre Dame was always an easy fit for me,” Walsh said. “Growing up with my dad who had come here, he really pushed me towards the school. But it was never a hard sell, because I always wanted to come here.”Walsh expressed that he was impressed upon meeting Poulin for the first time and that the coach was a major reason Walsh decided to become a member of the Irish.”How could you not help being impressed by Coach [Poulin]?” Walsh said. “Especially for a kid who’s aspiring to play in the NHL, you’d want to come and play for a guy who spent several years in the NHL.”A major step toward that dream for Walsh happened at the end of his freshman season, when he was selected by the New York Rangers in the fifth round of the 2002 NHL Entry Draft.”I was there with my parents, so I was happy that they were able to share that with me,” Walsh said. “Especially when you consider how much time they had spent driving me to practices and games and things like that.”Certainly one of the most impressive aspects of Walsh’s game is that he also leads the team in plus-minus with a plus-10. It is very unusual for a player other than a defenseman to lead a team in that statistic.”I’ve always considered myself a two-way player,” Walsh said. “The defensive part is really where it all starts. If you take care of your defensive zone it will translate into good offense. I’ve been fortunate to play with two other defensive-minded linemates (Andy Gill and Cory McLean) who are just as responsible defensively as I am.”That’s one reason we’ve been so successful this season as a line.”It’s certainly one reason the Irish have been a successful team this season, as well.