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Q&A: Dennis Gilbert prepares for sophomore season at Notre Dame

by Leah Pascarella / Chicago Blackhawks

Like many others, 2015 draft pick Dennis Gilbert made the trip to Chicago in early July to participate in Blackhawks Prospect Camp at Johnny’s IceHouse West. The defensive prospect had a successful freshman season at Notre Dame, leading the Fighting Irish with 70 blocks in addition to posting 10 assists. At camp, he took some time to chat with about his freshman year, Prospect Camp and what lies ahead for him this summer.

(Chase Agnello-Dean/Chicago Blackhawks)

How would you describe your game?

I think it’s definitely two-way. I did a lot of work on my defensive zone play these last two years, and I think it’s finally coming together. I think that part of my game is going to help me make that jump to the next level, along with some offensive skills. My style is playing good, hard defense. Blocking shots and doing whatever I can is what I have taken as my role.

When did you develop this style of play?

It all began in the USHL when I was playing for the Chicago Steel. I had a great coach by the name of Dan Boeser. He worked with me a lot after practice and taught me the essentials of playing defense, from stick positioning to blocking shots and all of that.

What kind of mindset do you go out with before a game?

I’m going to do whatever I can do to help my team win. It’s not about the individual accolades or anything like that, it’s just going out there and doing whatever my coach asks me to do, doing whatever my teammates need me to do. Having the energy, being hard to play against and being a force that no one wants to play against on the other team.

Who do you look up to as far as defensemen go?

From the Blackhawks, Niklas Hjalmarsson. He plays a really gritty style of play. He works really hard, blocks a lot of shots, does whatever it takes to win. That’s kind of what I try to do for my team now at Notre Dame.

How beneficial is Prospect Camp for you?

It’s huge. It’s awesome, first of all, getting to meet more guys every year and talk to guys in the organization like [Director of Player Evaluation] Barry Smith, [Director of Player Development] Mark Eaton and [Senior VP/General Manager] Stan Bowman. You compete with guys that are kind of on the same level and are trying to make that jump with you, so it’s definitely competitive, but everyone’s having a good time.

What differences do you see when you play with guys who have NHL experience?

I think everyone just has more poise. When you play at that higher level you have a little bit more time and space. Even the college guys have a bit of an edge because it’s a pretty high-paced, physical game. Especially for the pro guys coming down [to camp], they definitely have extra poise and are used to playing a little faster pace than what’s going here.

You had a strong freshman season at Notre Dame. What part of your game have you developed the most?

I was asked to do a lot of different things last year, whether it was playing against teams’ third or fourth lines and trying to be offensive, or playing against teams’ first or second lines and trying to shut them down. I think having that confidence and knowing that I did that last year will help me a lot going into my sophomore year. I know I can do a lot more and do it confidently. I know what it takes to get it done.

What was the highlight of your freshman season?

I would say when we won against Boston College at Boston. We were down 3-1. Our team really showed the effort. Our goalie played great behind us, and we were able to get three goals in the third period to come back and beat them at their place before Christmas break. We went on to a 12-game unbeaten streak from there, so that was definitely a spark in our season last year. It’s a pretty cool memory.

What is your favorite thing to do on the Notre Dame campus?

Probably using our golf course, especially in the summer. I take classes through Thursday, then on Friday we have our morning workout and some of the boys will go over and play golf on Friday and Saturday. It’s just a good time to go out there and relax, play without shoes on and shooting about 130, but it’s still a good time with the guys.

What do you hope to accomplish in your sophomore year?

I hope to keep building on what I’ve done this year. Moving forward, I think I really need to keep developing my D-zone play and work on my skating and vision. Next year I want my game to be more two-way and keep that offensive ability there, but really keep working on getting stronger, harder to play against in my D-zone and really being a force. Being nasty and helping my team be hard to play against.

What are your plans after your summer classes end?

I will go back home, maybe go to a couple of country concerts, but also skating and working out Monday-Friday with some of the other college guys and pro guys from Buffalo. It should be a fun summer. I’m excited to get back into it at Notre Dame for a strong sophomore year.

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