Jan 6, 2013, 3:10 PM EDT
For the sixth consecutive season, the Notre Dame hockey team moved practice outdoors as Jeff Jackson and his Irish hockey squad moved to the ice at Mishawaka’s Merrifield Park on Saturday, Jan. 5.
The Irish icers scrimmaged on the ice throughout the afternoon, took breaks to visit with the fans in attendance, signed autographs, did interviews with media in attendance, drank hot chocolate and had a great deal of fun in general.
This annual event started during the 2007-08 season when coach Jeff Jackson was looking for a way to change things up from the regular practice day. The Irish hit the ice at Merrifield Park on a Monday afternoon and had some fun before getting back to the regular schedule. Since then, the event has been publicized with fans and media alike invited to attend.
The numbers in attendance have grown every year with this year’s event being the first held on a Saturday afternoon. With over 40 days between home games (Dec. 8 to Jan. 18), this off day in early January seemed like the perfect time for the outdoor event.
Smiles were the order of the day from both the players and the fans that turned out to catch the Irish icers up close and personal. What stood out most was that the event took everyone back to their childhood and the way they learned to play the game.
“We all grew up playing on outdoor rinks, so this takes ups back to our hockey roots,” says junior captain Anders Lee.
“My hometown (Edina, Minn.) has 11 outdoor rinks and as a kid, I remember getting home and going to the rink and skating with my friends until it got dark. Playing outdoors brings the weather into play. The ice is different, you have to take the wind into account; the snow is blowing around. It’s the way I learned to play the game.”
“Everyone grew up playing hockey on the pond,” says senior defenseman Sam Calabrese.
“There are a lot of us from Illinois and Minnesota and the Detroit area that grew up playing with friends on the outdoor rinks skating around. To be able to do it here in South Bend with our friends here and the fans who support us is a great thing.”
“Coming out here is a neat thing,” says head coach Jeff Jackson.
“The game started on the pond and that’s where a lot of these guys grew up playing hockey for hours when the ice was frozen. We had the opportunity to be able to do that, take a day away from the seriousness of what we do and let them have some fun.”
Jackson adds, “It’s a big deal not just for our guys but for the fans who come out and have a chance to mingle with the players and get some autographs and have some pictures taken. They get a chance to give back a little and show people that they are just normal kids that don’t just play in the glitz of college hockey.”
“For me, being out here is a dream come true,” says Beers.
“I used to come here (Merrifield Park Rink) in the summer and play roller hockey all the time. To be here with the Notre Dame hockey team and spend some time with the fans who support us is great. This takes us back to hockey’s roots; playing on the pond. It’s old-time hockey, moving from the indoor rink to the outdoors. This is just pure hockey and a whole lot of fun.”
Senior forward Kevin Nugent participated in his fourth “Practice on the Pond,” and was all smiles when talking about his day at the rink.
“This is awesome to be able to do this,” says Nugent.
For junior defenseman Jared Beers, a native of Mishawaka, Ind., Notre Dame’s “Practice on the Pond,” is a unique event.
“This is my fourth year doing it and it seems to get bigger every year. With the NHL not playing, the Winter Classic was canceled so I guess you can say that this is our Winter Classic. It’s been a blast so far. Signing autographs, drinking some hot chocolate. We are having a great time.”
Nugent also had a message for Coach Jackson when it came to the hot chocolate that everyone seemed to enjoy.
“I think the hot chocolate has made me skate faster today,” says Nugent with a sly grin.
“Maybe coach will let us have it during practice in the future.”
While Saturday’s practice was fun for all involved, the Irish get back to work on Sunday as they prepare for their first action of the second half of the season. On Tuesday night, January 8, Notre Dame will be in action when the Irish travel to Minneapolis, Minn., to fact the top-ranked University of Minnesota Golden Gophers at Mariucci Arena.
Tim Connor is Notre Dame’s associate media relations director and the sports information director for the Irish hockey team.
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