A little over 10 months ago (and once again, 2 months from now), the college hockey world was preparing for the most exciting time of the year. It was the NCAA Frozen Four. Four cities played host to the regional rounds which included all 16 teams fighting for the chance to be named national champion. It was a hard fought tournament, culminating in a 2-1 victory for Minnesota-Duluth over Notre Dame at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota. I recently got the opportunity to speak with one of the members from Notre Dame’s runner-up effort, Colin Theisen. I was looking to see how a runner-up program uses experience and determination to take that final step toward reaching the ultimate goal. Theisen did not disappoint. He couldn’t have been more willing and open to share. The following is my conversation with the lefty forward.
The Intro – Getting to Know Colin
I took a very informal approach to this interview. After all, Theisen is in the middle of a season, so I knew he wouldn’t be too willing to give up gameplans or strategies. First off, I wanted to know how we got here:
ZachMac: What was life like before Notre Dame hockey?
Colin Theisen: Well, I was born and raised in Monroe, MI. That’s where I graduated high school. At St. Mary’s Catholic Central in Monroe. I started skating when I was 2 years old. We had a pond in the backyard that we would freeze every winter.
ZM: Why did you stick with hockey over other sports?
CT: It’s a huge help that I started at such a young age. I had a passion for the game from the jump, and I’ve never lost that passion. I always want to get better, every day. And I enjoy it.
ZM: Who was your team growing up?
CT: Detroit Red Wings
ZM: That makes sense. Who is your all time favorite player, then? A Red Wing?
CT: No, actually. Favorite player is Alex Ovechkin. He’s one of the best goal scorers of all time, and I’m a big fan of his unique play style.
ZM: Wow, next I was going to ask you if you liked Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin more, but I guess that answers that!
CT: Yeah, I mean there are definitely areas of the game where Crosby has the upper hand, but I’ve just always been a fan of Ovi because his grit and scoring ability.
ZM: Do you see any of his style in your game?
CT: Yeah, he likes to shoot the puck a lot and I do as well. It’s one of the strengths in my game. I try to shape my game after his ability to shoot and score as well as being that gritty, physical, two-way forward.
ZM: Ok, one last fun one. Who you got winning the Cup this year?
CT: I would like to see Tampa win this year. I think they have what it takes. Their goaltending is great, the special teams have been on fire, and their forwards mesh extremely well with the defensemen, regardless of where they are on the ice.
Notre Dame Hockey – Topping Last Year
The year before joining Notre Dame, Colin played his final season with the Dubuque Fighting Saints of the USHL. In 57 games, he amassed 62 points (35G, 27A)*. From there, he took his talents to South Bend, IN. The 2017-2018 season was a fun year for the freshman. In 40 games, Theisen had 19 points (6G, 13A). He would also finish with 22 penalty minutes and a +/- of +5*. The greatest joy in his freshman year, though, was competing in the Frozen Four and a chance at being a national champ. I wanted to find out what that was like, but also how they are going to rebound and finish on top this year.
ZM: So, why Notre Dame? You must have gone to South Bend for a reason.
CT: This place was always in the back of my head, since a young age. You hear about the academics and all the success this university has, both in the classroom and in athletics. I mean look at our hockey program. It’s top notch here. But I also know there is life after hockey. I chose the Fighting Irish because when it comes to preparing for life after hockey, you cannot beat attending the University of Notre Dame.
ZM: Seems smart to me. Always good to be a man with a plan. So if/when life after hockey comes around, what are ya thinkin’?
CT: I’m majoring in finance. The whole money/financial field interests me, so I’d be looking for something in that direction.
ZM: Which Big Ten rink has the loudest atmosphere when it comes to your away games?
CT: I would have to say Penn State. Their student section is called the Roar Zone and it can get pretty rowdy.
ZM: How important is your own fan base when it comes to your home games?
CT: Oh, our fan base is absolutely awesome here as well. We have one of the best bands in college hockey. Our students and fans definitely help to influence energy and momentum in games. We’re so incredibly lucky to play in front of these fans in such a nice venue.
ZM: Alright, I know last year was fun, but missing the ultimate prize was tough. Did you develop any pregame rituals or superstitions from last year’s run?
CT: No, not really anything out of the ordinary. I’d say, my only real superstition is, if I play really well one game, I’ll try to repeat everything I did that night before the game. Oh, I also always put my left piece of equipment on before my right when I’m getting dressed.
ZM: What is one area of your game, as a team, that your coaches have drilled into your head? The “identity” of Notre Dame hockey, if you will?
CT: The biggest thing we stress is just out-competing everyone. Every day, we come into the rink wanting to earn it. That’s how we have to handle ourselves on the ice. Every day. No team is handed anything, it’s about who earns it.
ZM: When you say out-compete everyone, what does that take? Is it cleaning up the gameplan, or is it about doing things that other teams won’t?
CT: Yeah, it’s about doing the little things right and focusing on executing all details of the gameplan. Winning the front of the net during games is another way to out-compete, and can often help lead to W’s. The more we can get into the dirty areas, the more we can get a couple bounces to go our way.
ZM: All your NCAA tournament games were one-goal games last year. Do those close game experiences help you when your team faces crunch time? Or is the stat-head side of me wrong, and a playoff W is just a W, on to the next?
CT: No, I do think those helped us out. Last year, our team played with a ton of confidence. Even if we found ourselves down a goal, late in a game, we knew we had a legitimate shot of coming back and taking the game. When everyone buys in to what we do, it increases our team confidence. It’s tough to beat teams with that kind of confidence. Throughout the year, one of our main focuses is just getting better every game. If we’re getting better every game, we’re playing our best hockey come playoff time. It’s important to know what you can improve on, even in a win. So yeah, it doesn’t matter how you win them, it just matters that you grab W’s at the end of the year. But I would definitely say they help us to stay positive during adversity.
ZM: Ok, one last question. I’m sure there’s homework or something you’d rather be doing. If the Fighting Irish come away with the title this year, what’s the first thing you’ll do as a champion?
CT: Let’s not cross that bridge until we get to it. Obviously, everyone wants to win a championship. We just had our chance last year and we didn’t get the outcome we wanted. We have to look past that and push harder for the championship. That’s the only thing we’re focused on right now.
ZM: Hey, that’s fair enough. I really appreciate you taking some time out of your day for this. Good luck the rest of the season, we’ll talk to ya soon.
CT: My pleasure. It was great talking to you. Go Irish!
What a guy! I wish them the best of luck going forward. Keep your eyes on Notre Dame come late March. Keep your other eyes here, as we’ll keep you up to date on how the 2019 Frozen Four shakes out! Feel free to follow me on twitter for daily hockey content and chances to win free merch. Be Bold. Stand Out.