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Kings of the Rink

Dan Murphy | Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The long list of firsts Notre Dame racked up this season most likely came to a close this weekend when head coach Jeff Jackson was named Division I national coach of the year, several days after senior goaltender Dave Brown received both the Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award and first team All-American honors.

The news of Brown’s awards came during a busy last weekend in St. Louis at the Frozen Four, where the senior goalie was present as one of three finalists for the Hobey Baker Memorial Award. The honor, however – college hockey’s highest – went to sophomore forward Ryan Duncan of North Dakota.

“I would have loved to have been [in St. Louis] with my teammates. That would have made the weekend perfect – being able to compete – but it’s definitely a good step forward for Irish hockey,” Brown said. “Hopefully, that will help to open some eyes in the college hockey world.”

Brown, who was Jackson’s first player to advance to the final three in Hobey balloting, was only the second Irish player to advance to the top 10 for the award in school history.

“I told him afterward he’s my player of the year. So as long as he knows he did the best job he was capable of doing, it puts a positive reflection on the University and the program,” Jackson said. “He’s done a tremendous job and should be proud of that.”

The American Hockey Coaches Association announced Tuesday that Jackson would be awarded the 2007 Spencer Penrose Award for the top Division I hockey coach at an awards banquet April 28 in Naples, Fla. After two national championships and four CCHA playoff championships with Lake Superior State in the early 1990s, it is the first time Jackson earned the prestigious honor.

“[The Spencer Penrose] is a positive reflection of this group of kids and this coaching staff,” Jackson said. “It’s a tremendous honor, and it’s obviously something that I’m humbled by.”

In only his second year at the helm for the Irish, Jackson guided a Notre Dame team that had won just five games two years ago and 13 games last season to an NCAA-high 32 wins, a league regular season championship and a league playoff championship this year. It was his eighth season behind a college bench, where he owns a 227-78-32 (.721) record.

He defeated Rick Comley of national champion Michigan State and Joe Marsh of St. Lawrence for the award.

The Lowe’s Senior CLASS award goes to the senior student-athlete who has shown loyalty to his or her school during their athletic careers. The coaches, media and fans who vote for the winner take in to consideration work in the classroom as well as in the local community, along with the player’s performance on the ice.

Prior to this year the honor was only given in basketball, but the program expanded this season to include hockey, baseball, softball and men’s lacrosse.

“Being the first recipient of the award is a very prestigious honor. It’s a great feeling to be recognized like that,” Brown said.

During his four years at Notre Dame, Brown involved himself in the South Bend community, where he participated in the Buddy Walk to help children with Down’s syndrome and skated with the local Boys and Girls Club.

The Stoney Creek, Ont., native has also made a big impact between the pipes for the Irish during his career. Brown set school career records for most shutouts (12), lowest goals-against average (2.32) and best save percentage (.916). His 55 careers wins left him just one win shy of the program record set by Lance Madson, who played from 1986-90.

Brown picked up more than half of those wins this year, finishing with a record of 30-6-3 – more than any other goalie in the country. His 1.58 goals-against average was also tops in the nation, and his .931 save percentage was second only to Kevin Regan of New Hampshire

Those numbers earned him a spot as one of two goalies selected for this year’s RBK Hockey West Team first team All-America. Brown becomes the eighth Notre Dame player to garner All-American honors in the program’s history and the first to make the team since defenseman Benoit Cotnoir in 1999. The last Irish player to be named to the first team was Kirt Bjork in 1983. Bjork had 29 goals and 34 assists in his senior campaign that year.

“I’m very proud that I could make that contribution to Notre Dame hockey, and hopefully it is a sign of things to come for some of the younger guys we got here,” Brown said.

Brown is joined on the western first team by Michigan defenseman Jack Johnson and forward T.J. Hensick, North Dakota linemates Ryan Duncan and Jonathan Toews and Minnesota defenseman Alex Goligoski. Four more CCHA skaters were selected to the second team, which gave the league seven out of the 12 western team selections.

Brown is currently working out with teammates in preparation for a professional career. The graduating senior was drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins after his freshman year and has until August 15 to sign a contract with them before becoming a free agent.

Meanwhile, Brown will leave a hole in net for the Irish larger than any five-hole he may have flashed to opposing shooters.

“Anytime you lose a player of that caliber and experience, it’s always difficult to replace him,” Jackson said. “You don’t replace him, you just hope [goalies] Jordan Pearce, Tommy O’Brien and incoming freshman Brad Phillips … take it upon themselves to fill that challenge.”