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Hockey: Injury-free VeNard leads on and off the ice

Sam Werner | Wednesday, February 27, 2008

It may have taken Dan VeNard three years to find a regular spot in the Irish lineup, but now that he has, he’s making his presence known.

After being shuffled in and out of the lineup, mainly due to injuries, the senior defenseman from Vernon Hills, Ill., has finally found a regular spot on the Notre Dame blueline.

“I guess I just stayed out the way of people,” VeNard joked.

After the first 11 games of his freshman season, VeNard was sidelined with a separated shoulder that would cost him seven games; another shoulder injury later in the season would put him out for six more.

VeNard was one of the players on the panel interviewing Irish coach Jeff Jackson before he was hired. It didn’t take long for VeNard to make an impression on his future coach.

“It was interesting because he had real, real long hair,” Jackson said. “But he’s just a model citizen, and I could tell that from my first official meeting with him as a coach.”

VeNard played in 29 of the team’s 36 games in Jackson’s first year as coach – missing the first three due to a stress fracture – and participated in only 17 the next season. Jackson said injuries were always the main reason VeNard was not starting.

“By the time he got back, somebody else had been playing real well,” Jackson said. “So it was hard for him to get back in the lineup. It wasn’t a matter of him not playing well.”

So far this season, VeNard has played in every game for the Irish. He credited his newfound durability to an extra 10 pounds he added in the off-season, bulking him up to 198 pounds.

“This year I came in much heavier and more in shape than I ever have,” VeNard said. “I think the extra weight definitely helped me.”

Also, VeNard has been putting the puck in the net more than ever before – notching five goals on the season after only scoring two career goals in his first three seasons.

“He’s got a deceptive shot,” Jackson said. “Sometimes he’s erratic, but he can shoot the puck.”

VeNard said his offensive production is about luck, rather than skill.

“I was just going out there, putting my head down and shooting as hard as I can,” VeNard said. “I think it might be more or less out of luck. I don’t think about scoring goals when I go out there, but it sure has been fun.”

Fellow senior Brock Sheahan said VeNard’s main role is not as a sniper, but as a leader.

“He’s done a really great job showing guys how to be a great guy on and off the ice,” Sheahan said.

Jackson echoed Sheahan, saying the senior was a great role model for younger teammates.

“He’s just a level-headed young man,” Jackson said.

VeNard’s leadership abilities extend off the ice. He is president of the Student Athlete Advisory Committee, a group that serves as a liaison between the administration and student-athletes.

“It’s actually really important and it’s a great honor for him,” Sheahan said. “He’s always honest for making sure we’re out in the community.”

VeNard’s executive role, however, doesn’t make him immune from a good locker room ribbing.

“It’s always fun to give him a hard time about it, calling him ‘Prez’ or ‘El Presidente,’ that kind of stuff,” Sheahan said. “It’s always fun giving it to him.”

Faced with the task of rallying a team that has suffered from poor play in recent weeks, VeNard is optimistic about upcoming games.

“We never faced this type of adversity last year,” VeNard said. “My message to the guys is to just stay positive. Stay positive with each other and stay positive with yourselves.”

As VeNard’s experience at Notre Dame shows, positive thinking can pay off.

“[VeNard]’s gone through some really tough times here that other players might not be able to deal with, dealing with injury after injury,” Sheahan said. “He’s shown that he’s a very good defenseman and I’m very impressed with what he’s done.”