Blackhawks prospect Dennis Gilbert shows major signs of progression in sophomore year at Notre Dame


It was a bittersweet sophomore campaign for Dennis Gilbert.

On one hand, he showed major signs of progression in his own game both on defense and offense.

On the other, he was left wanting more after Notre Dame was eliminated by Denver 6-1 in the semifinals of the Frozen Four at the United Center on Thursday.

"It was a tough night overall for us," Gilbert said when we chatted after the game. "Obviously we didn't want to end the season that way, leave our goalie out to dry and half our seniors walk away with a pretty bad taste in their mouth. It's all I'm really thinking about right now."

A third round pick (No. 91 overall) by the Blackhawks in 2015, Gilbert anchored a blue line group that was one of the best in the country, allowing only 2.3 goals per game. 

A year after recording two goals, eight assists and a plus-5 rating in 37 games, he took a big step forward by ranking third on the team with 22 assists while his plus-29 rating was far and away the best on the club. He was also named Hockey East's best defensive defenseman, and third-team All-Star.

"I thought I grew a lot this year, at both ends of the ice and all three zones," Gilbert said.

It was evident when Denver coach Jim Montgomery called the Blackhawks prospect Notre Dame's best defenseman after the game, saying he made it an effort to adjust which lines he threw on the ice based on when Gilbert was or wasn't out there.

Gilbert delivered a pair of massive hits in the second period, and did so with ease, displaying that 6-2, 220-pound size of his. He logged heavy minutes in the loss, blocked one shot and was a key part of the penalty kill unit.

But there's always room for improvement, and Gilbert will focus on a few areas this offseason to take an ever bigger step forward in his junior year.

"Keep getting smarter with the puck," he said. "Puck decisions, keep working on my skating, my quickness and continue to be hard to play against against those top forwards that I tried to track down this year."

Despite helping the Fighting Irish reach their third Frozen Four in program history and ninth all-time NCAA appearance, Gilbert wants to be part of something even bigger next season.

"It's tough right now looking back on everything, it's a lot to process right now," he said. I'm really proud of our team and the year we had. No one really thought we were going to have the chance to get here and be able to have a chance to play at the United Center and go to the Frozen Four. It was a pretty cool experience and I hope that, myself included, sophomores, the freshman and the younger guys can build off this and find a way to come out stronger next year with it."

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