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Photo by Jim Orlando
07/15/2011 10:00 AM

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Last offseason it was Chicago Blackhawks prospect Ben Smith who closed out his college career at Boston College on a high note with a National Championship before making his professional debut in Rockford, eventually getting some experience in the National Hockey League with the Blackhawks.

Although his collegiate career didn’t finish with a National Championship, defenseman Joe Lavin helped guide the University of Notre Dame to a Frozen Four appearance in Saint Paul, Minn. during the 2010-11 season.

Lavin was Chicago’s fifth round selection (#126 overall) in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. The 6-3, 200-pound defenseman signed a two-year entry-level contract with the Blackhawks on April 11 and is set for his first full pro season after a successful two-year run at Notre Dame.

“For a transfer like me, you want to make sure you are taking full advantage of your college opportunity,” said Lavin. “We had a great group of guys. We took things one day at a time and before you knew it we were in the frozen four, so it was a lot of fun.”

Prior to transferring to Notre Dame, Lavin spent two seasons with Providence College from 2007-2009, tallying nine assists in 48 contests. After the first semester of the 2008-09 season, the Shrewsbury, Mass. native joined the Omaha Lancers in the USHL where he recorded 23 points (7g-16a) in 33 games.

Lavin began the 2009-10 season back with the Lancers before he decided to transfer to Notre Dame and finish out the season in South Bend as a member of the Irish, playing in 18 games while notching three goals and seven assists. In his first full season with the Irish during the 2010-11 season, Lavin served as team captain and guided a young defensive crew while registering 17 points (6g-11a) in 44 games.

The Fighting Irish were knocked out of the tournament 4-3 by the eventual 2011 National Champions, University of Minnesota-Duluth, but it was a good way for Lavin to finish off his collegiate career.

Heading into the Frozen Four, Lavin hoped he would be playing on Saturday. What he didn’t know is that it wouldn’t be in the National Championship with the Irish, but instead in Rockford helping the IceHogs finish off their season and getting a glimpse of life as a professional hockey player. The day after getting bounced out of the tournament, Lavin got the call and signed an amateur try-out to play in Rockford.

“I was obviously still in shape, I hadn’t taken anytime off or anything,” said Lavin. “Mentally I didn’t check out because I knew there was a chance it would happen.”

The blueliner got a little taste of the pro game and made his professional debut on April 9 against Grand Rapids. Lavin also played in the IceHogs season finale on April 10, registering his first professional assist in a 5-4 overtime win at Chicago.

“The guys in Rockford were really good to me, especially the older guys,” said Lavin. “I played with Garnet Exelby and he was a big help.”

Last week, Lavin continued to prepare for his first professional season by participating in Blackhawks prospect camp at Johnny’s West in Chicago. The 21 year-old knows the game is a lot faster and the guys are a lot bigger than in college and it is something he’s going to have to adjust to.

“The professional game, when you make a mistake it’s pretty highlighted,” said Lavin. “Every guy is held responsible for their assignments on the ice, where in college if you make a mistake you have the speed or ability to recover from it. It’s just a matter of limiting your mistakes.”

As the blueliner continues to get ready to begin his professional career, taking a similar road as Smith’s start to his career isn’t a bad idea.