Not thin on the ice: Bench for ultimate Irish hockey ‘Dream Team’ runs deep
Old Glory and the two banners on either side of it are waving briskly as they usually do on the flagpoles in front of Notre Dame’s Compton Family Ice Arena. But the parking lot is empty, as it has been since the world shut down in early March because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Notre Dame’s roller-coaster 2019-20 hockey season ended March 8 with a 3-2 Big Ten postseason loss at Minnesota that left head coach Jeff Jackson’s Fighting Irish with a final 15-15-7 record. The loss ended Notre Dame’s string of NCAA tournament appearances at four, including back-to-back trips to the Frozen Four that included a runner-up finish to Minnesota Duluth in the 2017-18 season.
The 64-year-old Jackson, whose 334-206-64 record (a .606 winning percentage) In 15 seasons includes four Frozen Four appearances and eight conference champions in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association and Big Ten, is mostly in a stay-at-home mode like the rest of us. But the Michigan State alum, who coached two NCAA championship teams at Lake Superior State, dreams of bringing one to Notre Dame as he keeps himself in sheltered shape.
Since the school embarked in its modern era of hockey back in 1968 under Charles W. “Lefty” Smith, who was 307-320-31 (.490) in leading the program until 1987, there hasn’t been national title for the program. Fittingly, the Irish, who moved from the Joyce Center to the Compton in the fall of 2011, now play their home games at the 4,850-seat Lefty Smith Rink that is frequently oversold because of Jackson’s successful teams.
So this Irish hockey “Dream Team” of players who played for Smith, his student proteges Ric Schafer (1987-1995) and Dave Poulin (1995-2005) and under Jackson is offered for your enjoyment and includes two goaltenders, seven defensemen and 13 forwards.
Two Jackson-era players get the nod and they both earned All-America honors and were finalists for the Hobey Baker Award that was fittingly championed by Smith and is college hockey’s equivalent to college football’s Heisman Trophy.
- (2003-07) began his career under Poulin and finished it under Jackson, going out with six shutouts, a 1.58 goals-against average and a .931 saves percentage while going 30-6-3 as Jackson’s second team lost in the Midwest Regional final to Michigan State.
- (2016-20) had a cup of coffee his freshman year behind Cal Petersen, but then fashioned a 27-8-1 record that included four shutouts, a 1.94 goals-against average and .944 saves percentage his sophomore season in winning Big Ten Player of the Year as well as the Mike Richter Award as college hockey’s best goaltender. Two weeks ago, he was named the team’s most valuable player for the third straight season.
Others considered: Dick Tomasoni (1968-72), Mark Kronholm (1970-74), Len Moher (1974-78), Lance Madson (1986-90), Matt Eisler (1994-98), Jordan Pearce (2005-09), Cal Petersen (2014-17).
During the modern era, 13 Notre Dame players in addition to Brown and Morris have been named All-Americans, six of them played on the blueline and one is the school’s only two-time All-American.
- (1973-77) finished his career with 109 points off 78 assists and 31 goals, 25 of which came during his final two seasons of 1975-76 and 1976-77 when he won All-America honors. He later was a standout defenseman for the NHL’s St. Louis Blues and Hartford Whalers.
- (1970-74) was Notre Dame’s first blueline All-American, receiving the award following the team’s 23-14-1 campaign in 1972-73 that ended with the Irish suffering a bitter WCHA playoff series loss to eventual NCAA champion Wisconsin. Nyrop, who totaled 17 goals, 72 assists and 89 points for his career, later was a defenseman for the Montreal Canadiens and had his name engraved three times on the Stanley Cup.
- (2007-10) won All-America honors as a sophomore in 2008-09 when the Irish went 31-6-3 and won the CCHA regular-season and tournament titles. He left Notre Dame following his junior season after compiling 17 goals, 48 assists and 65 points. His NHL career, which started in St. Louis in 2010, has now taken him to Colorado after stops in Columbus and Pittsburgh where in 2016 and 2017 he was a member of the Penguins’ Stanley Cup champions.
- (2015-19) won All-America honors in 2018-19 after leading the Irish in scoring with eight goals, 26 assists and 34 points. He finished his career with 103 points (24 goals, 79 assists) and now plays for the Hershey Bears, an American Hockey League affiliate of the Washington Capitals.
- (1969-73) was a smart and rock-steady teammate of Nyrop and was a senior captain on the 1972-73 team. He was the first Irish defenseman to score 30 goals and finished his career with 96 points.
- (1978-82) had a booming shot and was a physical player who finished as the school’s all-time leading scorer on the blueline with 28 goals, 95 assists and 123 points. His senior season was Notre Dame’s first in the CCHA and the Irish won the Great Lakes Invitational.
- (2014-18) possessed many of Schmidt’s characteristics and finished just two points behind him in total points by a defenseman with 36 goals among his 121 points. He made his NHL debut this season with Arizona.
Others considered: Paul Clarke (1973-77), Don Jackson (1974-78), Jeff Brownschidle (1977-81), Bob Thebeau (1982-86), Pat Foley (1984-88), Benoit Cotnoir (1995-99), Mark Eaton (1997-98), Brett Lebda (2000-04), Ted Ruth (2007-10), Stephen Johns (2010-14), Robbie Russo (2011-15), Andrew Peeke (2016-19).
- (1973-77) is the school’s all-time leading scorer with 89 goals, 145 assists and 234 points. A 5-foot-8 center, Walsh left a large and poor Cambridge, Mass., family to win All-America honors after scoring 30 goals and 77 points for a 1976-77 team that finished 22-13-3 and runner-up in the WCHA.
- (1970-74) won All-America honors as a left wing on the 1972-73 Irish team with the all-time best season — 43 goals, 47 assists and 90 points — playing mostly with center John Noble and right wing Ian Williams. He is third all-time in scoring with 220 points (103 goals, 117 assists).
- (1976-80) was a Rhodes Scholar finalist his senior season in 1979-80 when he also won All-America honors. The rugged right wing finished his Notre Dame career with a record 104 goals and 192 points. After a brief career with Calgary in the NHL, he became a successful businessman and philanthropist.
- (1979-83) earned All-America honors as a left wing in 1982-83 by scoring 29 goals and 63 points. After a brief professional career, Bjork because a businessman and eventually returned to Notre Dame to work in development. Son Anders joined him as an Irish All-American in 2016-17.
- (2005-09) scored 48 goals and 158 points during his Irish career and won All-America honors as a right wing and captain in 2008-09. He has skated for Ottawa, Tampa Bay and Dallas during his NHL career and totaled 40 goals and 99 assists.
- (2010-13) captured All-America honors in 2012-13 when he scored 20 goals and 38 points in 2012-13. Following that season, the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Edina, Minn., native signed with the NHL New York Islanders and he became their captain at the start of the 2018-19 season. He has 172 goals and 301 points while also earning his Notre Dame marketing degree.
- (2014-17) scored 21 goals and 52 points in winning his All-America honors and then signed with the Boston Bruins. After overcoming injuries last season, Bjork was skating regularly and had nine goals and 19 points in 58 games before the NHL season was shut down on March 12.
- (1969-73) was a diminutive (5-foot-9, 160-pounds) right-handed center from Toronto who was tied by Walsh in career assists with 145. He is second to Walsh in scoring with 226 points and scored 81 goals.
- (1969-73) was Noble’s high school teammate at St. Michael’s and they were later joined at Notre Dame by Williams. A left-handed playmaker, Regan captained the Irish with Green in 1972-73 and finished his career with 89 goals, 97 assists and 186 points.
- (1978-82) scored 59 points (28 goals, 31 assists) as a freshman center and finished his Irish career with 196 points. After graduation, he joined the Philadelphia Flyers where he succeeded Bobby Clarke as captain and won the Frank Selke Trophy as the NHL’s top defensive forward. Poulin later played for Boston and Washington and finished a 14-year NHL career with 205 goals and 530 points before becoming Notre Dame’s head coach in 1995.
- (1984-88), the son of Smith’s first assistant Tim McNeill grew up playing in the Irish Youth Hockey League and was a center for Saint Joseph High School. He played at Notre Dame for Smith and Ric Schafer and finished his career with 83 goals and 198 points. McNeill, a member of the Indiana Hockey Hall of Fame with his dad, played in the NHL for Chicago and Quebec and now oversees programming and instruction at Compton.
- (2010-14) is a Chicagoland center who scored 54 points during his freshman year when the Irish reached the Frozen Four. He finished with 161 points (54 goals, 107 assists) before moving into the professional ranks where he has played for Columbus and Colorado in the NHL.
- (2014-18) came out of the St. Michael’s program in Toronto to play right wing and center for the Irish. He captained the 2017-18 Frozen Four team and scored the game-winning goal against Michigan that sent the Irish to the championship game. After finishing with 41 goals and 138 career points, Evans signed with Montreal and made his NHL debut this season.
Others considered: Phil Wittliff (1968-71), Pat Novitzki (1972-76), Clark Hamilton (1973-77), Alex Pirus (1973-76), Don Fairholm (1974-78), Brent Chapman (1981-86), David Bankoske (1988-93), Jamie Ling (1992-96), Dan Carlson (1997-2001), Ben Simon (1996-2000), Bryan Rust (2010-14).
After Jackson passed Smith as Notre Dame’s all-time winningest coach with his 308th victory, a 4-0 shutout of Boston College on New Year’s Eve in 2018, Notre Dame presented him with a pink sweater much like the one Smith wore behind the bench during his tenure. The more professorially-dressed Jackson would welcome sharing this “dream” bench with Smith but is warned to keep a lookout for water bottles that might be kicked his way.
Additional staff: John Whitmer, trainer; Rev. James Riehle, C.S.C., chaplain; Larry “Boomer” Chojecki (1972-73), student manager.