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Hockey Pros Return to Notre Dame

Aug 29, 2012, 6:38 PM EDT

Entering Compton Family Ice Arena for the first time, Brett Lebda (’04) must have felt there was a lot more than just a parking lot separating him from his home as an Irish player.

“It’s pretty impressive,” the current Columbus Blue Jacket defenseman said. “Walking in here kind of makes you upset that you didn’t get to play in it, but at the same time it’s pretty amazing. They did a top-notch job.”

This week, Lebda is one of 15 former Notre Dame hockey players participating in a pro camp at the Compton.  And like Lebda, many of them are skating in the new arena for the first time after playing their Irish home games at the Joyce Center.

With practices open to the public, the first-ever Notre Dame Pro Hockey Camp began on Monday and will end Thursday. Players have the opportunity to prepare for the season with some former teammates – and some current opponents.

“There’s a little ribbing here and there, but it’s all in good fun,” Lebda laughed. “We’re here for a reason too – to get ready for the season. You’ve got to give it to guys once in a while though.”

With 13 professional hockey players participating – in addition to ’12 graduates Patrick Gaul and Rich Ryan – the camp has highlighted the growth in number of Irish alumni who have moved on to the next level.

“As a college guy, you go into pro hockey, and it’s kind of college hockey vs. major junior,” said Christian Hanson (’09), who is in the Bruins’ organization. “Now you’re starting to see more and more guys coming out with a Notre Dame background, so it’s nice to be able to say, ‘We got a couple Notre Dame guys out there tonight.’ And I think it’s going to get even better as the years progress.”

With four NCAA berths and two conference championships in the last six years, Irish hockey has certainly come a long way in head coach Jeff Jackson’s tenure. Prior to handing the reins over to Jackson in 2005, Notre Dame had only made the NCAA tournament once – Brett Lebda’s senior year.

“We slid in there at the #16 slot,” he said. “To be a part of something for the first time, you hope that helped put the program in the right direction. I think that’s something that we always hold special to our hearts.”

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