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Hockey: Van Guilder fires jabs at goalies, teammates

Kyle Cassily | Thursday, November 16, 2006

Mark Van Guilder is pretty talented at putting the puck past goaltenders – and it looks like he’s just as good at ripping on his teammates.

The Irish junior center rushed off the ice after practice Wednesday with a couple other Notre Dame players behind him and headed straight for video coordinator Brad Aldrich and his laptop.

Van Guilder had Aldrich open up footage from Saturday’s win over Bowling Green of sophomore left wing Erik Condra tripping over his own skates. Van Guilder and his small posse couldn’t stop laughing as they stood outside the equipment room and dragged in other Irish players coming off the ice to see Condra’s figure skating.

“It’s funny because me and Condra, neither of us are really pretty skaters, and we both know it – we both remind each other of it quite often,” Van Guilder said. “He had a little incident coming back into the d-zone this weekend, where he almost went face first into the end boards with no one around him.”

When Condra found out Van Guilder had shared the tape with everyone that would watch, he started to return fire.

“He’s so funny,” Condra jokingly yelled. “He’s the funniest guy on the team … funniest guy.”

But whether Van Guilder is the funniest guy on the team or not, the junior from Minnesota is leading the No. 5 Irish in goals (eight), points (14) and shot percentage (.333). That’s a big step for a player who said he received no offers from major schools until Irish assistant coach Andy Slaggert stumbled upon him through junior defenseman Luke Lucyk, who is now spending a year back in juniors before returning to Notre Dame.

“First of all, I wasn’t very good – so there weren’t too many choices [of schools],” Van Guilder said. “I owe a lot to Luke Lucyk, who was already committed to come here. Coach Slaggert came to watch him play, and I was playing with Lucyk at Tri-City [Storm of the United State Hockey League] and I was playing pretty well. He saw me play and I had a pretty good game.”

And this season, a year after being named the team’s most improved player and finishing the season third on the Irish in scoring, Van Guilder has been the biggest offensive threat, tying his goal total from all of 2005-06 for the 8-1-1 Irish. Seven of his eight goals last year came on special teams – six on the power play and one shorthanded, but he has only one power play goal this season.

“A big emphasis from the coaches this summer was for me being more aggressive, especially on five-on-five,” Van Guilder said. “I didn’t score as much five-on-five last year, it was mostly power play.”

Irish associate head coach Paul Pooley said Van Guilder put the work in over the summer, using the early morning hours to improve and evolving into a supporting leader behind the captains and seniors.

“He’s always had it,” Pooley said of Van Guilder’s scoring touch. “I think he’s just shooting more. He has a good shot – he scored a great goal against Boston College. He rolled it up on the power play and ripped it top shelf. And I think that’s one of the things about scoring – is when they shoot the puck and score, it gives them more confidence to continue to do it.”

Van Guilder has clicked well with his linemates – senior left wing and 2005-06 leading Irish goal-scorer Josh Sciba, and senior right wing and captain T.J. Jindra.

“T.J. plays more of an up-and-down game, where he’s more defensive-minded,” Sciba said. “But Van Guilder and I have a little more tendency toward offense, and I think that we feed off each other. Van Guilder’s creative down low, and I’m able to open up and let him make that pass to me, try to finish my chances. So I think that we all add something to that line.”

Part of Van Guilder’s success and his evolution from barely-scouted recruit to offensive powerhouse on one of the nation’s top-ranked teams can be credited to his ability to stay healthy. He holds the record for most consecutive games played by an active Irish player with 84.

“It’s kind of being blessed, just not getting bad injuries – little nicks, bumps and bruises everywhere,” Van Guilder said. “Our trainer [Kevin Ricks] comes up with some interesting pads we slap around our ankles or wherever we need them. He does a great job of keeping us on the ice.”

And Van Guilder will continue to be on the ice this Friday at the Joyce Center for the CCHA grudge match with No. 4 Michigan State. Although he said this is a big game, he gets anxious every week for Friday to come – especially on Sunday when the game is farthest away.

“Hopefully we’ll have a lot bigger ones later in this season, but this is huge right now,” he said. “We’re going to see where we are at, because this is one of the top teams in the country.”

By the time it reaches gameday, Van Guilder said he cannot wait to play and likes to get to the rink “quite early.” He has a detailed pre-game routine of taping and waxing his stick.

“I [start] on the heel – not all the way down the heel, a little bit off – [go] all the way down over the toe, cut it off with the scissors then soft wax over the whole thing.

“[The tape’s] always white. Danglers use white tape, that’s what my high school coach told me.”

If the colored wax he chose doesn’t work in the first period, he’ll change it over during the intermission. But if that still doesn’t work?

“That’s when you just have to battle and make something happen with the color wax you got,” he said with a laugh.

Van Guilder will face one of his toughest tests of the year this weekend, going up against Spartans goaltender Jeff Lerg – last year’s CCHA rookie of the year and tournament MVP. In the meantime, however, Van Guilder and the Irish will try to keep loose and maybe show a few more Condra highlight reels.

When asked if he had any favorite moments in his time with the Irish, he started laughing.

“I think it may have happened 10 minutes ago, watching film of Erik Condra,” he said with a smile. “We have a blast.”