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Hockey: Van Guilder shows class on ice

Matt Gamber | Thursday, February 21, 2008

Coaches and teammates recognized long ago the class with which senior captain Mark Van Guilder handles himself on the ice, in the classroom and in the community.

Now, so is the rest of the country.

Van Guilder, a right wing from Roseville, Minn., has been named one of 10 national finalists for the Lowe’s Senior CLASS (Celebrating Loyalty and Achievement for Staying in School) award – a testament to four years of dedication to a program he has helped redefine, Irish coach Jeff Jackson said.

“That award is about guys who have persevered and are four-year players that have made the commitment to becoming great people on and off the ice,” said Jackson, who inherited the Notre Dame program following Van Guilder’s freshman season. “He’s the kind of guy who does things the right way. He’s a committed athlete, a committed student, he represents himself and our program with a lot of class, and he’s just a very mature young man – the kind of guy you feel comfortable with being in the public arena or representing us on campus in every aspect of how he behaves and represents himself.”

When Van Guilder reflects on his Notre Dame experience, the dramatic goals or big-game wins aren’t the only things that come to mind. He has become actively involved in community service, thanks in part to a lighter course load because of his summer school enrollment, but mostly due to an inner drive to give back.

“We’ve got all this free time, so we might as well go out there and help a kid,” said Van Guilder, whose 23 points is good for second-best on the Irish squad. “My favorite part is that we each have a kid we read to every Wednesday, and to see the little guy’s progress … he loves seeing us there, and it’s fun when you actually see the impact you make on someone’s life.”

Junior right wing Erik Condra, who lived with Van Guilder as a freshman when Van Guilder’s roommate left after first semester, praised not only the senior’s natural leadership ability, but also his willingness to bestow it on his teammates.

“Guilder’s been like a big brother to me,” Condra said. “He took me under his wing a little bit by showing me the ropes of college. We had a great time, and we’ve become great friends – he’s just a great guy to have. He sets a standard as the moralist, a very religious guy, a guy that Irish hockey can really build around.”

And that they have, ever since Notre Dame’s abysmal showing in Van Guilder’s rookie campaign that brought on Jackson to lead a program then on the decline.

“That’s the thing I’m most proud of; where we’ve come since my freshman year,” Van Guilder said. “Coming from five wins and maybe five or six fans to an NCAA appearance, a conference championship and a full building – that’s one thing I can definitely look back on.

“We got comfortable losing freshman year – you’d come to the rink wondering how much are we going to lose by or when are we are going to blow our lead this weekend. That attitude’s so long gone that it’s really cool seeing the progress the program’s made.”

Van Guilder played a large role in that transition, playing in every game – 150 straight – in his Notre Dame career. He is just three games shy of breaking the mark set by 2006 grad Tim Wallace, who also played in every game during his four-year career with the Irish.

“That tells you about his durability, his conditioning, and his mental toughness,” Jackson said. “He plays every situation, and he’s relied upon not just to be one of our better offensive players, but also defensively.”

Though being called upon to fulfill duties on the defensive side of the puck and in penalty killing may have had a negative impact on Van Guilder’s goal-scoring capabilities, the attitude with which he approaches the game reflects his willingness to do what it takes for the team to maximize its potential.

“His passion for the game is second to none. His whole life is hockey,” Condra said. “His work ethic kind of rubs off on the other guys. He came in here and wasn’t the highly-touted recruit, but he ended up making his way and doing very well for himself, becoming one of the top guys on the team. It just shows his character and the standards he’s helped set for the program.”

Van Guilder, a three-time monogram winner who was honored after his sophomore season as the team’s most improved player, brings what he calls “a calming presence” to his role as the team’s captain and recognized leader.

“I don’t show much emotion when I’m really excited or really down; I try not to get too extreme either way,” Van Guilder said. “I’d like to be the calming influence on my teammates when things are getting crazy and you’re on the road and it’s not going your way.”

That role has been one of Notre Dame’s most important during this up-and-down year, especially following a campaign in which the Irish were ranked No. 1 for much of the regular season.

“It is a lot different than last year, when it was a smooth ride all the way through and all the bounces seemed to be going our way,” Van Guilder said. “This year’s only going to make us a better team, better players and better people for it, but it’s definitely been a bigger challenge this year when you’re not as sharp as you’d like to be and you have to regroup in the locker room to get back on track.”

As rewarding as his experiences off the ice have been as a Notre Dame student, Van Guilder still defines himself based on his identity as an Irish hockey player – and a good one at that. Much like that of many of his veteran teammates, his greatest memory comes from last year’s conference championship victory over rival Michigan that gave Notre Dame its first CCHA title in school history.

“That summarizes my whole career here,” Van Guilder said. “We just got hammered by those guys my freshman year, and coming back and beating them for the third time in a row [last season], and for the championship, was just awesome. That was the highlight of my career – so far. Hopefully I’ll replace that this season.”