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Hockey: Better late than never

Jack Hefferon | Wednesday, November 9, 2011

In several senses, senior center Patrick Gaul can be an easy guy to lose track of. He stands just 5’8″ when he’s on the ice, but over the last three years he has struggled just to get the chance to be on it.

“You kind of lose track of it if you’re not on the team, because mostly you only see the games on the weekend, but there’s three forwards and two defenseman every weekend that don’t play,” Gaul said. “But they do everything, except play the two games. They’re still practicing just as much as the other guys.”

After paying his dues and beginning to adjust to the college game as a freshman, Gaul was able to crack the lineup and see serious time on the ice in his second year. He admittedly didn’t take full advantage of that chance though, and when Notre Dame’s record-breaking freshman class came in last year Gaul was squeezed out of the lineup again, playing in just two games.

“Sophomore year I got a chance, we just kind of had a tough season overall, and I didn’t think I played as well as I could have,” Gaul said. “I wasn’t pleased with how I played sophomore year. Junior year we had a lot of good, talented, hardworking freshmen, so I spent my year preparing to get into the lineup, and I didn’t really get a chance, but just kind of kept working on it, and tried to keep a good attitude about the whole thing. And this year I’ve been given a chance and an opportunity, and I’m just trying to take advantage of it.”

Gaul has indeed been making good on his second chance so far. After registering just three points in his first three Irish seasons, Gaul has four points already this season. He’s played in every game so far, and has been featured on both the power play and shorthanded units.

According to Gaul though, his biggest contributions to the team don’t often show up in the box score.

“I’d say my ability to read plays and anticipate certain things is my biggest strength,” he said. “Some guys hate blocking shots, some guys hate penalty killing. It’s my favorite part of the game. Just from the coaches I’ve had in the past and my parents, not quitting is kind of my thing. I’m not the fastest guy and I’m not the biggest guy, but I’m not going to give up on a play.”

That resilience allowed Gaul to make one of the biggest contributions of his career Oct. 29 at Bowling Green. Tied up 2-2 in the third period, the Irish were looking for a spark to close out the weekend. On a play where he was knocked down twice before gaining the offensive zone, Gaul’s refusal to give up on a puck secured Notre Dame’s first series sweep of the year.

“By the time I got into the zone, [freshman winger Peter] Schneider had already attacked the net, came back around and hit me with a pass, and I just caught it, shot it and it went in,” Gaul said. “I was just happy, because there’s a lot of times where it might not show up on the scoresheet, so it was nice to have something like, ‘Hey, Gaul got the game-winner.’ It was a good feeling.”

And while Gaul had never given up on his goal of getting back in the regular lineup, the start to the season has

exceeded even his expectations.

“Keeping a good attitude and staying positive, I think, is what put me in a position to do well this year,” Gaul said. “I can’t really say that this is how I expected my senior year to go. I was just hoping to get a chance to play, and given that chance try to take advantage of it. I’m happy that I’m making progress and doing things to help us win, but I still want to get better and keep improving.”

Gaul’s career path has certainly been windier than most of those on Notre Dame’s roster, but there is still a lot of road left to travel. The next stop on that road will be against Alaska at the Compton Family Ice Arena this weekend, but the senior hopes the ride doesn’t end anytime soon.

“I’m excited to get out there against Alaska this weekend. They’re generally a hardworking, defensive team. It’s fun to play those teams that are known to be gritty,” Gaul said. “I just want to keep helping our team have success, and come home with some championships, be it CCHA or national. It’s my last year here, and I want to win as much as I can before I have to go.”

Contact Jack Hefferon at wheffero@nd.edu