Aug. 31, 2012
Notre Dame, Ind. - It seemed like old times for several former members of the Notre Dame hockey program this past week as they returned for the first-ever Notre Dame Pro Hockey Camp at the Compton Family Ice Arena earlier this week.
Some - defenseman Mark Eaton for one - returned from as far back as 1998 while others like Teddy Ruth, Erik Condra and Christian Hanson wore the Irish hockey jersey just a few seasons ago. But they all had one thing in common. They were all skating for the first time at the new Compton Family Ice Arena as they begin their preparations for the coming pro seasons.
Needless to say they were impressed by the new home of the Irish hockey program.
"It's pretty impressive," said Brett Lebda `04, currently a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets.
"Walking in here makes you a little upset that you didn't have a chance to play here, but at the same time, it's amazing. They really did a top-notch job."
Eaton, the elder statesman of the returnees with 12 seasons in the National Hockey League, said, "Everything about Notre Dame is top notch and this is a perfect example of it - a first-class building for a first-class program."
Christian Hanson `09, who will be going to training camp this year with the Boston Bruins, echoed the statements made by Lebda and Eaton.
"This is the nicest facility that I have ever been in," says Hanson. "I've played in pro buildings, college and buildings in Europe and this is hands down the nicest that I have been in."
The Notre Dame Pro Hockey Camp ran from August 27 through August 30 and gave the former Irish players, as well as several other area pros, a chance to get back on the ice for the first time in organized practice activities since last season. All hope to be heading off to their various pro teams training camps with in the next month.
Each day, the skaters hit the ice at 9:00 am for a one-hour practice that was directed by former Irish standout Ben Simon `00 who is currently an assistant coach with the Rockford Ice Hogs of the American Hockey League, current Irish volunteer assistant coach Jason Nightingale, former Irish player Kevin Deeth `10 and current Irish associate coach Andy Slaggert `89.
The coaching group put the players through various skating and shooting drills, upping the tempo each day. Following the practice, the pro players moved on to the Compton Family Ice Arena weight room where they had access to the weights and cardio equipment to do their own personal workouts as set up by their current teams.
From there, the players were off for lunch before returning to the rink for an afternoon scrimmage on three of the four days. Wednesday afternoon the group moved to Notre Dame's Warren Golf Course for a break in the hockey to play 18 holes of golf action.
Following Monday's four-on-four scrimmage, the pros were treated to a barbeque dinner in O'Briens by Notre Dame head coach Jeff Jackson who welcomed everyone to Notre Dame and the Compton Family Ice Arena.
The Pro Camp was the idea of Hockey Equipment Specialist Dave Gilbert who presented the idea to Erik Condra `09 and Brock Sheahan `07 who gave him ideas on how to set the camp up. From there, Gilbert contacted the alums and the camp grew from there.
"I thought the idea of a pro camp was a great idea," says Condra who is in his third season with the Ottawa Senators.
"I know that other schools like Michigan State and Miami have done pro camps and they are well received. It's a great way to get back to campus and connect with your former teammates while getting ready for training camp. I hope we can do it again in the future and start a new tradition here at Notre Dame."
Three members of the group of returning players - Patrick Gaul `12, Richard Ryan `12 and Riley Sheahan - all had the chance to play on the Lefty Smith Rink last season in their final years with the Irish. While the remaining returnees never had a chance to play at the Compton, they all had an incredible impact on the building being built.
"To be part of something for the first time, you helped put the program in the right direction," says Lebda, who was a member of the first Irish team to make the NCAA Championship in 2004.
"I think that's something that will always hold a special place in our hearts."
With the recent success of the Notre Dame hockey program, the list of players in professional hockey should continue to grow.
"When you go into pro hockey, its always kind of college hockey vs. major junior," says Hanson who spent last season in the American Hockey League with the Hershey Bears.
"Now you are starting to see more and more guys coming out of Notre Dame. It's nice to be able to say, `We've got a couple of Notre Dame guys out there tonight.' I think those numbers are going to keep growing."
Among those former Irish players participating in the Notre Dame Pro Camp were Ian Cole (St. Louis Blues), Wes O'Neill `07 (Kalamazoo - ECHL), Kyle Lawson `09 (Florida - ECHL), Teddy Ruth `11 (Springfield - AHL), Evan Rankin `08 (Rochester - AHL), Mark Van Guilder `09 (Milwaukee - AHL) and Brad Phillips (Adirondack - AHL) along with Eaton, Lebda, Condra, Hanson, Brock Sheahan, Riley Sheahan, Gaul and Ryan.
The Irish players got the word out to friends and current teammates now playing professionally who also were able to attend the camp. Those players included John-Michael Liles (Michigan State `03 and Toronto Maple Leafs), Jim O'Brien (Ottawa Senators), Bryan Lerg (Michigan State `08 and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton - AHL), Jared Nightingale (Michigan State `06 and Connecticut - AHL) and Pat Nagle (Ferris State `11 and Florida -ECHL).
Special credit for making it to the camp has to go to Cole. He was on a family vacation in the Caribbean with his family while Hurricane Isaac was forming. His cruise ship could not dock in Florida on Sunday as the storm moved in, forcing him to spend three extra days on his ship. He was finally able to dock on Wednesday, flew home to Detroit on Wednesday afternoon and was on the ice Thursday morning at 9:00 am for the final day of the Pro Camp.