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Hockey: Shootout belt eludes Hanson

Kyle Cassily | Thursday, November 29, 2007

Notre Dame hockey equipment manager Dave Gilbert put the odds of center Christian Hanson winning a shootout at a trillion to one.

And in the minds of the team and staff, that’s no exaggeration.

“He thinks he’s got skills. His dad has more skills – even now,” Irish hockey radio announcer Mike Lockert said, referring to Dave Hanson, a 10-year pro hockey player known for his legendary role as one of the Hanson brothers in the movie Slapshot.

The Irish hold a shootout after every Thursday practice before home games – a tradition that is thought to have started in 1995 under former coach Dave Poulin and that is also a staple on college rinks across the country.

The competition is simple: Every player skates down from center ice and takes on the Irish goalie one-on-one. If a player scores, he moves to the next round. If he doesn’t, he takes the skate of shame to the loser’s side of the ice. The snipers then battle in the second round to score again, but if no one does, then the goalies win.

The winner gets more than a little locker room cred – he receives a large leather title belt for the week with WSF (World Shootout Federation) Champion lettered on a nameplate riveted into the belt. Gilbert designed the belt years ago and cut out two monogram ND patches from the jerseys to frame the WSF logo on each side.

“It’s like a World Wrestling Federation belt. You’re the champ for the week,” said Irish right wing, and occasional champ, Erik Condra.

Condra also said he could never imagine Hanson winning the belt in his four years at Notre Dame.

“I haven’t seen Hanson’s dad shoot a puck in a while, but I think anybody out there who has a stick in their hands can beat Hanson in a shootout,” he said.

Hanson may not be able to score a goal on a shootout even if the net were empty, but the Irish tradition has seen a number of talented shooters take home the title in the last decade. Associate Athletic Director Tom Nevala said Yan Stastny, who left Notre Dame after two years in 2003 and now plays for the St. Louis Blues, was a shootout star.

You never knew what move Stastny would pull, Nevala said, but he always used a wood stick with a blade so big, it was just a “paddle.”

Hanson has his own go-to move in the shootout, but chances are he didn’t learn it from Stastny.

“I go down. I do a little head fake, goalie doesn’t bite. I go to my backhand, goalie doesn’t bite,” Hanson said. “So at that point, I usually dump it into the corner and skate hard back to the end of the line.”

The shootout battle extends beyond the ice and into the stands. The team’s staff, including Gilbert, Lockert, Nevala and Director of Hockey Operations Brad Aldrich, each pick the player they think will take the belt that day. The Gilbert-mandated rules say no players can be chosen twice and goalies can’t be picked.

Lockert said he tries to mix his picks up, but it’s kind of like the lottery. Aldrich has more of a system.

“I always stay with the younger guys,” said Aldrich, who won for the first time this year when he picked freshman Ben Ryan last week. “I don’t like to go with the upperclassmen. [The underclassmen] are a lot more loose, and they don’t take it as seriously, usually those are the guys that score.”

Aldrich didn’t go out on a limb when he chose Ryan, because the freshman had won two straight shootouts before Aldrich called the third victory.

“I think it’s fixed. I think people feel bad for him,” Hanson joked. “Benny’s hands are unbelievable. He comes down, and it’s seriously like he has a wand in his hand. The stuff he does with a puck, I can’t even dream of.”

Lockert said he unfortunately picked Hanson to win last week, but only because Hanson begs to be chosen every week.

“I think those are sad puppies who want to pick [Hanson],” Condra said.

Hanson has no problem that no one thinks he can win a shootout.

“Because deep down at the bottom of my heart, I know no matter how bad I am at shootouts, when I look in the mirror I will never be as ugly as [Irish forward] Justin White,” he said.

Hanson admits it would be easier for him to win a CCHA championship than it is for him to capture the belt.

“I do believe his first year in the [NHL], Sidney Crosby went 2-for-13 on shootouts, so you can’t be great in every aspect of the game,” Hanson said. “I figure I’ll just sacrifice one thing – Thursday practice shootouts is it.”