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Set your DVR: Onward to Victory: Notre Dame Hockey

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This blog admittedly doesn’t give other Notre Dame sports their fair shake. But there’s a soft spot in my heart for Notre Dame hockey. You’d think someone that rode the bench on the baseball team and covers Notre Dame football for a living would have his allegiances set, but through four years of college, there was no bigger Irish hockey fan than me, and the guys on the team were some of my best friends, people I still talk and email on a daily basis.

Before ringing in the New Year takes over tonight, do yourself a favor and tune into Versus for a wonderful hour of television chronicling the dawning of the new era of Notre Dame hockey: the opening of the Compton Family Ice Arena. It’s a terrific inside look spearheaded by the team at Fighting Irish Digital Media, and gives you an overview on the surprisingly rich history of Notre Dame hockey, while also giving you a behind the scenes look at the opening game of the arena, the Irish’s showdown with No. 3 ranked Boston College — a game so good, the documentary’s producers likely couldn’t believe there luck.

The Irish officially moved from their rink in the JACC to the Compton Family Ice Arena this season, fulfilling a promise made to over a decades worth of Irish hockey recruits and bringing one of the nation’s best college hockey programs out of the dark ages. There’s often talk about “the Notre Dame experience.” Well, playing hockey in the JACC was definitely not the Notre Dame experience, it was one of college hockey’s absolute worst facilities. Growing up and playing hockey in a state like Minnesota, I was shocked when I came to watch my friends play in their first college game — in a rink with temporary bleachers in a personality-less setting that served as the worst home ice advantage in the CCHA. I played every game of my high school career in a better rink.

Over a decade later, walking into the Compton Ice Arena before the Boston College game and taking my seat along the red line, I couldn’t help but think about all of those games that I’d attended back at the old JACC, winning meal money during a cheesy trivia contest in front of a half-empty crowd or freely sliding between bleachers to say hi to friends and family. “Every player that played here over the years, dreamt of it being at this stage,” former coach Dave Poulin said during the show. “And believe me, now everybody knows that Notre Dame has hockey.”

I won’t give away anything else about the show tonight, but one comment struck me as I watched an advanced copy. It was from head coach Jeff Jackson, as he addressed his team as they packed up their things and made the walk over to their new, state-of-the-art, home.

“There’s been a lot of special moments here. But I want us all to remember the humility of this place,” Jackson told his players. “Yeah, we’re all anxious to get outta here. But never lose sight of what we’ve had here. It’s had a lot of special people in this room and a lot of special celebrations.”

As the team gathered around the interlocking ND on the dingy old locker room’s floor, I couldn’t help think of the hundreds of guys that have packed into that cramped room, playing hockey with a chip on their shoulder knowing they were playing in the shabbiest rink in college hockey while representing one of the country’s proudest schools. As you’ll see when you get your first look at the new rink, that problem has been permanently remedied.

Here’s a look at the trailer for Onward to Victory: Notre Dame Hockey, airing tonight at 9:30 p.m. ET on Versus.

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Five Irish players sign UFA contracts

Matthias Farley
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Notre Dame had seven players selected in the 2016 NFL Draft, trailing only Ohio State, Clemson and UCLA on the weekend tally. But after the draft finished, the Irish had five more players get their shot at playing on Sundays.

Chris Brown signed with the Dallas Cowboys. Romeo Okwara will begin his career with the New York Giants. Matthias Farley and Amir Carlisle signed contracts with the Arizona Cardinal. Elijah Shumate agreed to a contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

After missing two seasons, Ishaq Williams will be at Giants rookie camp next weekend as well, working as a tryout player. Expect Jarrett Grace to receive similar opportunities.

Count me among those that thought both Brown and Okwara would hear their names called. Brown’s senior season, not to mention his intriguing measureables, had some projecting him as early as the fifth round.

Okwara, still 20 years old and fresh off leading Notre Dame in sacks in back-to-back seasons, intrigued a lot of teams with his ability to play both defensive end and outside linebacker. He’ll get a chance to make the Giants—the team didn’t draft a defensive end after selecting just one last year, and they’re in desperate need of pass rushers.

Both Shumate and Farley feel like contenders to earn a spot on rosters, both because of their versatility and special teams skills. Shumate played nickel back as a freshman and improved greatly at safety during 2015. Farley bounced around everywhere and was Notre Dame’s special teams captain.

Carlisle might fit a similar mold. He played running back, receiver and returned kicks and punts throughout his college career. With a 4.4 during Notre Dame’s Pro Day, he likely showed the Cardinals enough to take a shot, and now he’ll join an offense with Michael Floyd and Troy Niklas.

 

Robertson picks Cal over Notre Dame, UGA

Demetris Robertson
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Demetris Robertson‘s decision wasn’t trending in Notre Dame’s direction. But those that expected the Savannah star athlete to pick the in-state Bulldogs were in for a surprise when Robertson chose Cal on Sunday afternoon.

Notre Dame’s pursuit of the five-star athlete, recruited to play outside receiver and hopefully replace Will Fuller, likely ended Sunday afternoon with Robertson making the surprise decision to take his substantial talents to Berkeley. And give credit to Robertson for doing what he said all along—picking a school that’ll give him the chance to earn an exceptional education and likely contribute from Day One.

“I am excited to take my talents to the University of California, Berkeley. The first reason is that the education was a big part of my decision. I wanted to keep that foundation,” Robertson said, per CFT. “When I went there, it felt like home. Me and the coaching staff have a great relationship. That’s where I felt were the best of all things for me.”

Adding one final twist in all of this is that Robertson has no letter-of-intent to sign. Because he’s blown three months through Signing Day, Robertson merely enrolls at a college when the time comes. That means until then, Kirby Smart and the Georgia staff will continue to sell Robertson on staying home and helping the Dawgs rebuild. Smart visited with Robertson Saturday night and had multiple assistant coaches at his track meet this weekend.

Summer school begins in June for Notre Dame. Their freshman receiving class looks complete with early enrollee Kevin Stepherson and soon-to-arrive pass-catchers Javon McKinley and Chase Claypool.

Sheldon Day drafted in 4th round by Jaguars

North Carolina v Notre Dame
Getty
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Former Notre Dame captain Sheldon Day didn’t have to wait long on Saturday to hear his name called. The Indianapolis native, All-American, and the Irish’s two-time defensive lineman of the year was pick number 103, the fourth pick of the fourth round on Saturday afternoon.

Day was the seventh Irish player drafted, following first rounders Ronnie Stanley and Will Fuller, second round selections Jaylon Smith and Nick Martin, and third rounders KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise.

Day has a chance to contribute as he joins the 24th-ranked defense in the league. Joining a draft class heavy on defensive players—Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack and Yannick Ngakoue already picked ahead of him—the front seven will also include last year’s No. 3 overall pick Dante Fowler, who missed the entire season with a knee injury.

Scouted by the Jaguars at the Senior Bowl, Day doesn’t necessarily have the size to be a traditional defensive tackle. But under Gus Bradley’s attacking system (Bradley coordinated the Seahawks defense for four seasons), Day will find a niche and a role in a young defense that’s seen a heavy investment the past two years.

Smith, Martin, Russell and Prosise all drafted Friday night

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - SEPTEMBER 13: William Fuller #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Nick Martin #72 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrate a touchdown during the game against the Purdue Boilermakers at Lucas Oil Stadium on September 13, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
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Jaylon Smith, Nick Martin, KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise were all selected on Friday, with four Irish teammates taken on the second night of the NFL Draft. As mentioned, Smith came off the board at pick 34, with the Cowboys gambling on the injured knee of the Butkus Award winner. Nick Martin was selected at pick 50, joining former teammate Will Fuller in Houston.

The third round saw Russell and Prosise come off the board, with Kansas City jumping on the confident cornerback and the Seahawks taking Notre Dame’s breakout running back. It capped off a huge night for the Irish with Sheldon Day, one of the more productive football players in college football, still on the board for teams to pick.

Here’s a smattering of instant reactions from the immediate aftermath.