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.