Hockey: Walsh leads on rink and in locker room
Kyle Cassily | Thursday, February 2, 2006
Ask any Notre Dame hockey player or coach about Rory Walsh and they’ll give you a smile and a laugh before praising him.
The senior Irish goaltender and locker room personality from Milton, Mass. has played a backup role in the crease for most of his college career, but on and off the ice Walsh’s upbeat character is unmatched.
“He’s always positive and never really negative – you never really see him have a bad day,” freshman goalie Jordan Pearce said. “He always has a smile on his face or cracks some jokes.”
Pearce says he and Walsh have a non-competitive relationship on the ice – each just wishes the best for the other’s game – and that Walsh’s absence next season will be a downer due to the color he brings to the locker room and attitude he brings to the game.
“Sometimes you get to the rink and you might not be having the best practice and you look over and you see Rory trying his best, giving his all, and it’s motivation,” Pearce said.
Walsh recognizes when it comes to game time, everyone needs to focus their efforts towards a successful game. But in the down time he loves to kid his teammates for anything from on-ice performances to weekend stories.
“What I’ve realized in my four years here is that by going out there and having fun everyday it takes the grind out of playing a full-year season,” he said. “In general we try and just have fun, rip on each other.”
But things haven’t always been so fun for Walsh, as he has had to overcome impossible odds to be able to strap the pads on today. Walsh severed his right Achilles tendon and had surgery to reattach it in early March of his sophomore season. He spent the next five months in a cast, completing a slow, painful rehab during which his foot was steadily moved from a pointed down position back up to its normal position.
“Honestly, when it happened all the doctors said, ‘You probably won’t play hockey again,'” Walsh said. “It was a very difficult injury to come back from. I still don’t have full range back in my Achilles, but it’s something that definitely was one of the toughest things I’ve had to deal with in my life because it restricts just everything you do.”
Along with rehabbing a torn tendon, Walsh overcame a complete atrophy of his calf muscle, an experience he describes as frightening. At best, the doctors told him, he would be able to skate again in December of the next year – but Walsh was back practicing with the Irish by August.
The injury came just prior to Notre Dame’s first NCAA tournament appearance – a 5-2 loss to Minnesota – and a 6-5 loss to Ohio State in the CCHA Super Six. Walsh remembers only bits of the Minnesota game due to a bad reaction to post-surgical medications, but the empty feeling he had watching the Irish play in the Super Six stuck with him.
“I just remember sitting up in the stands and thinking I’m not a part of the team,” he said. “You obviously are, but its tough sitting up in the stands and watching your team play. I didn’t even know if I was going to even be on the bench again or on the ice again.”
Walsh is the lone Irish player from Massachusetts – a prep-hockey hotbed – and the only one from the New England hockey stronghold. He joked that he likes to remind his Midwestern teammates that the East does hockey well too, something they don’t readily admit.
“I still keep in touch with my buddies because a lot of them don’t matriculate out to the Midwest or a western conference,” Walsh said. “So it’s tough sometimes, it’s a different way of living out here but I like it. It’s nice to be the person that represents your area.”
His suburban Boston hometown and standout performances at Noble and Greenough School put him in contact with a lot of Eastern schools looking to put him in their net – including Amherst College, Bowdoin and several Ivy League schools. But in the end a call from former head coach Dave Poulin – who offered Walsh a spot on the team – and the urging of his father, Brian – who is a former Notre Dame standout – convinced Walsh to commit to the Irish.
“Putting on the sweater every day, even putting on the practice jersey, seeing Notre Dame on the front of it, there’s a sense of pride there,” Walsh said. “Its something that I will absolutely miss, even in the spring when the seasons finally over I will miss that. I’ll miss putting on your equipment and taking it off and talking with the guys.”
Walsh has logged many relief appearances in net over his four years, but his favorite game moment came when he was given the nod as the team’s starter to open the 2003 season against Ohio State. He made 31 saves in a 5-2 Irish win – the last win over the Buckeyes until Saturday’s 1-0 win.
He also notes the consecutive victories over Boston College in the previous two seasons, made sweeter with the friends he has on the Eagles. The 3-2 win over the No. 1 Eagles last October on a goal from T.J. Jindra with :17 remaining was exhilarating but Walsh is equally satisfied with the private locker room moments with his buddies.
“Every day coming to the rink is something I’ll remember, because being a part of a team is not so much the wins and losses, but enjoying the guys and making friendships that will last a lot longer than the four years here at Notre Dame,” he said.