December 29, 2011 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Case In Points

T.J. Tynan Continues to Turn Heads at Notre Dame

by Avash Kalra/Staff Writer

While it's true that T.J. Tynan's on-ice play for Notre Dame is often described as other-worldly, the story of Tynan's ascension to the top of the CCHA is, in fact, somewhat global in nature. After all, cities all over the world have contributed some small role in the sophomore's rise to stardom — among them, Des Moines, Columbus, Anaheim, Orland Park, Moscow, Calgary and St. Paul, just to name a few.

Tynan, who currently leads the CCHA with 18 points in 14 league games, has shown no signs of slowing down after last season's rookie campaign — one of the best, statistically, in Notre Dame's history. The Orland Park, Ill., native was the top freshman scorer in the nation with 23 goals and 31 assists in 44 games.

On 16 occasions, he recorded multi-point games.

Not surprisingly, Tynan — whose 53 points were the most for a Notre Dame player in two decades — was named the Hockey Commissioners' Association National Rookie of the Year, just one trophy in a case full of personal awards he received at the end of the 2010-11 season.

But his memorable rookie season — which culminated in a Frozen Four experience in St. Paul, Minn. — almost never happened in the first place.

Weeks before the start of his freshman season at Notre Dame, Tynan was planning on returning to the Des Moines Buccaneers of the United States Hockey League (USHL). But Kyle Palmieri, lured by the NHL's Anaheim Ducks, chose not to return to the Fighting Irish for his sophomore season — thereby setting into motion a plan for Tynan to move from Des Moines to South Bend a year ahead of schedule.

The move paired Tynan with classmate Anders Lee, and the two have formed one of the most dynamic duos in the recent history of the league. As freshmen, Tynan and Lee combined for 98 points. This season, as sophomores, they have 47 in 20 games — highlighted by 12 goals from Lee and 20 assists by Tynan.

Of Lee's dozen goals this season, Tynan has provided an assist on nine of them.

"He's more of a power forward, and I'm more of a skill guy," said Tynan, a 5-foot-8, 167-pound center who contrasts nicely with the considerably more imposing Lee, at 6-foot-3 and 218 pounds. "He can dominate people down low with his strength and his physical presence. I rely more on my speed and my quickness."

Indeed, Tynan is known around the CCHA for his exceptional on-ice vision. Only three players in the country are averaging more assists per game.

Said the sophomore, "I just try to make the play in order for either me or for someone else to score — whether that's shooting the puck, getting the puck on net, maybe a rebound. But if it's passing to someone who's in a better position to score than I am, you've got to just decide what the best play is and make the decision as quickly as possible."

Despite his size, Tynan's undeniable play-making potential caught the eye of executives for the NHL's Columbus Blue Jackets before the 2011-12 season began. The Jackets used a third-round pick to draft Tynan, and it wasn't a selection they took lightly.

Columbus had acquired the pick from the Ottawa Senators, in exchange for Nikita Filatov, a former sixth overall pick who created a major headache for the Jackets organization — one that, at one point, resulted in Columbus sending Filatov to play for CSKA Moscow in Russia's KHL. The disillusioned Filatov eventually played only 44 games for Columbus over the course of three seasons, scoring only six goals.

Certainly, the Jackets hope Tynan is a better fit.

And the prolific sophomore's on-ice performance for Notre Dame has not gone unnoticed by the brass of USA Hockey, either. Last week in Calgary, the center was selected to Team USA's 22-man roster for the 2012 International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) World Junior Championships — ongoing through January 5 in Calgary and Edmonton, Alberta.

Tynan was selected along with teammate Stephen Johns, and together, they will provide the first Notre Dame presence on the national squad since, appropriately, Palmieri, who played for the 2010 gold-medal winning team.

While Tynan will play at the World Juniors during the holidays, his teammates return to action on New Year's Eve, when the Irish host future Hockey East conference foe Boston University in a nationally televised game on VERSUS, the first of the network's new package.

The Irish, 11-6-3 overall, suffered a four-game losing streak before winning their final game before the holidays, 4-1 against Ferris State. The slump was most notable for a 9-2 loss to Northeastern — a game in which three Irish goaltenders combined for only 11 saves.

Said Tynan, "I think the team struggled a little bit down the stretch. That happens to every team. We've worked hard, and I think we should be fine heading into the second half."

Tynan and the Irish enter 2012 tied for second place in the CCHA, trailing only Ohio State, the nation's best team according to the Pairwise rankings.

"We've got to find our consistency," said Tynan. "Some games, we dominate the other team. We play really well defensively and offensively. In other games, we're just mediocre. We've got to find that consistency where we can play great every game."

As for Tynan, finding consistency hasn't been much of an issue. Having played in 64 games for Notre Dame, Tynan has only been held off the scoresheet in back-to-back games twice.

"I haven't changed my game really," said Tynan. "But [this year], I've tried to be more of a complete player, especially in the defensive zone and on the penalty kill. I just try to work hard every day and help the team in any way I can."

And so, for Tynan — whose story includes skill development in Des Moines and now Calgary, motivation borne in Frozen Four frustrations in St. Paul, and even a journey created by behind-the-scenes decisions in Anaheim and Columbus — the focus, really, is simply on South Bend, Indiana — home of the Fighting Irish. And, perhaps, Tampa — home of this April's NCAA Frozen Four.

Beyond that? The sophomore is showing no signs of slowing down.

And all the world's a stage.

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