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History in the making

Justin Schuver | Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Nothing has ever come easy for Irish coach Dave Poulin.The current member of the Philadelphia Flyers Hall of Fame didn’t get recruited by any Division I schools — he filled out a Notre Dame questionnaire intended for a star teammate. He didn’t get drafted, nor did he get an NHL contract despite being a Hobey Baker finalist as a senior at Notre Dame. But after a year in Sweden’s professional league, he latched on with the Flyers and played 12 productive years in the NHL.Poulin’s first Notre Dame team went 9-23-4, but his most recent one made history with a 20-15-4 record and the first ever NCAA tournament berth in Notre Dame’s 37-year history.He even had to endure the extremely premature birth of his twin daughters – both of whom are currently Notre Dame freshmen – and the death of star Philly teammate Pelle Lindbergh.After all that, what’s so hard about beating Boston College, the No. 1 team in the country – again?Not to mention that the Irish did it without their top returning scorer from last year, forward Mike Walsh. Walsh was also the only player who scored a goal in last year’s victory over the then-No. 1 Eagles.Not to mention that goalie Morgan Cey kept the Eagles off the board Friday night for the first two periods, despite Boston College outshooting Notre Dame 30-13 in that span. Cey has only had two separate knee surgeries in his career.Not to mention that the game-winning goal by T.J. Jindra was scored shorthanded, after the Irish blew their earlier 2-0 lead and allowed the Eagles to score goals just 15 seconds apart in the third period. Jindra’s goal was scored after a questionable charging penalty was called with less than a minute left in the game.Character? This team has it in droves.”I can’t say enough about T.J. Jindra as a player,” Poulin said after Friday’s win. “He was sitting on the bench sick there for five minutes in the third period, throwing up and really hurting.”The kid is just a great kid and a great hockey player.”Coming into this season, the college hockey world said that Notre Dame was primed for a fall. Losing six seniors – forwards Aaron Gill and Rob Globke and defensemen Brett Lebda, Neil Komadoski, Tom Galvin and T.J. Mathieson – would be too big a loss for the Irish to handle, the experts said.A battle with senior-laden Minnesota-Duluth would show Notre Dame’s youth and inexperience, those same experts crowed, right before the Irish went out and tied the Bulldogs 2-2 in their first game of the season.Character? Look it up in the dictionary and you’ll see Poulin’s team.The Irish have played a hellacious schedule so far, playing not one but two Frozen Four teams from last year, as well as a two-game series on the road against Miami of Ohio – one of the top teams in the CCHA last year and another team that made the NCAA Tournament last season.Despite that monstrous slate of opponents, the Irish have started a respectable 1-3-1 – respectable when you consider that the one win and tie were against those two Frozen Four teams. More importantly, Irish freshmen like Evan Rankin – who scored the second goal against Boston College — have gotten some much-needed playing time against some of the best teams in the country. That experience will pay dividends further down the road. It’s taken Poulin nine years for his team to raise a banner in the west end of the Joyce Center proclaiming “NCAA TOURNAMENT 2004.” If his team can continue the character they’ve shown so far this season, he shouldn’t have to wait too long to add another year to that banner.The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.Contact Justin Schuver at jschuver@nd.edu.