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Back on the ice

Justin Schuver | Thursday, October 7, 2004

He’s lost his two leading scorers from last season, and three defensemen from last year’s NCAA tournament team have also graduated.

This year, his team is opening its regular season with a two-game series at the Joyce Center against No. 4 Minnesota-Duluth, who made it to the Frozen Four last year before losing to eventual champion Denver in the semifinals.

Irish coach Dave Poulin, are you insane?

“I think it’s a tremendous challenge,” Poulin said. “What better way to start a season? When you look at last year and our NCAA run, one of the reasons we got there was the strength of our non-conference schedule.

“There’s only going to be two freshmen on defense [tonight], so it’s not like we’re going to be throwing guys out there who have never played before. And we’ve got great goaltending backing us up.”

The Irish open this season with a defense that features only one senior in Joe Zurenko and one junior in Chris Trick – the rest are sophomores and freshmen.

That’s a far cry from last season, when graduated seniors Tom Galvin, Neil Komadoski, Brett Lebda and T.J. Mathieson combined for 486 career games on Notre Dame’s blueline. This year’s returning defensemen – Zurenko, Trick, and sophomores Wes O’Neill and Noah Babin – have played 201 career games.

With such a young defense, Notre Dame will look to its goalies to step up even more than last year – when the Irish netminders combined for a 2.42 goals-against average (GAA) and a .923 save percentage.

Sophomore David Brown and senior Morgan Cey enter this season as two of the best goaltenders in Notre Dame history. Cey, barring a complete collapse this season, will annihilate the Irish records in GAA, save percentage and shutouts.

Brown, meanwhile, only had one of the best years in the country for any goalie, much less a rookie netminder. His save percentage of .925 and 2.32 GAA led the Irish, with Cey not far behind with a .924 save percentage and 2.42 GAA.

Notre Dame’s offense also suffered a big hit this season, with graduated seniors Rob Globke and Aaron Gill accounting for 36 of the 108 Irish goals last season.

Junior Mike Walsh finished third on the team in scoring last year with 12 goals, and will be expected to contribute even more this season. Irish captain Cory McLean is the only senior on offense, and tied for fourth on the team last year with 24 points.

“I know what I’m going to get from Cory McLean,” Poulin said. “I think the key for this year is really going to be that junior class. I’m really expecting those guys to pick it up on offense and show what they can do.”

Altogether, 17 of Notre Dame’s 26 players this season are either sophomores or freshmen. That’s quite a contrast to Minnesota-Duluth, who has 11 seniors on its team’s roster.

Despite the loss of Hobey Baker winner Junior Lessard to graduation, the Bulldogs still sport a team that is capable of scoring at will. Last year, Minnesota-Duluth averaged 4.11 goals per game – the second-best average in the NCAA.

Senior center Evan Schwabe led the NCAA in assists with 38, and was the Bulldogs’ second-best scorer with 57 points. As Minnesota-Duluth’s captain this season, he heads an offense that should again be one of the best in the nation.

In net, the Bulldogs have a solid veteran in junior Isaac Reichmuth. Reichmuth’s 2.68 GAA average last season was a big part of the Bulldogs’ success, and he especially stepped it up in the post season on the way to being named the Most Valuable Player at the Grand Rapids, Mich., NCAA Regional.

The Irish open their season against the Bulldogs tonight with face-off scheduled for 7:35 p.m. The two teams will meet again Friday with the puck drop scheduled for the same time.