Oct. 12, 2015
By Curt Rallo
It's a blue block letter `C', outlined in gold, that is emblazoned in the upper left-hand corner of a University of Notre Dame hockey uniform to indicate a captain's status.
For alternate captains, it's a block letter `A.'
In the case of the 2015-16 Fighting Irish seniors, those block letters have been stitched in by sweat, sacrifice and selflessness.
Leadership is not given in the Notre Dame hockey program. It is a valued character trait that this season's seniors earned through the grind of a demanding season in 2014-15, and have turned into a vision of greatness for 2015-16.
This season, in an honor as rare as the heart and commitment displayed by Tommy DiPauli, Steven Fogarty, Sam Herr, Mario Lucia and Andy Ryan, Notre Dame named each of its seniors to a leadership role for the 2015-16 campaign.
Fogarty was named the Irish captain for a second consecutive season, and DiPauli, Herr, Lucia and Ryan were awarded alternate captain status.
"We just decided that this class has been so good over the last three years, I just named the entire class," Fighting Irish coach Jeff Jackson said.
Leadership for this season's Irish started to emerge in February of last season, when the Fighting Irish rose up out of the depths of a bitter 1-6-1 stretch to finish the 2014-15 campaign with an 8-5-2 mark in the final 15 games.
Irish leadership continued to solidify after withstanding the fires of an NCAA-record five-overtime loss to Massachusetts in the first game of a Hockey East playoff series last March, and then fighting back to gut out the next two games and win the series.
That leadership then grew in the summer, when the seniors honed their leadership into a craft with impact. It's a leadership the Irish unveil on Friday, Oct. 16, at Penn State when Notre Dame takes on the Nittany Lions in the season opener. The puck is scheduled to drop at 7 p.m. ET.
"Leadership is very important," Jackson said. "The best years we've had here, we usually had great leadership. I think of guys like T.J. Jindra and Erik Condra, Andres Lee ... Mark Van Guilder was a good leader, as well.
"When we had those guys who have both the heart and the voice of the locker room, that's usually a good sign," Jackson continued. "I think there's a good combination of the five. They're very close. They have a great relationship with each other. I think they can lead by committee, and that's a good thing."
Jackson credited the University to helping student-athletes develop leadership skills. He said that the Rosenthal Leadership Academy plays a key role with leadership training.
Growing leadership is also a coach's responsibility.
"We try to cultivate them, too, and frankly, we try to recruit guys who have been captains before," Jackson said. "If they've shown leadership at the junior level or the youth level, it certainly makes a big difference."
Jackson said that Fogarty is a prime example of the type of player who fits into the fabric of Irish leadership.
"Steven Fogarty comes from a leadership family," Jackson said. "His Dad is an admiral in the Navy, and his brother is a Navy seal. He's got all the right tools to be a great leader in life, not just hockey."
Fogarty used the experience of an 18-19-5 season in 2014-15 to sharpen his leadership skills.
"I learned a lot last year," Fogarty said. "At times, I was kind of reserved using my voice to speak out. Having seniors above you who aren't necessarily captains made it difficult. I learned a lot last year, and I feel more comfortable keeping people accountable, whether it's hockey, school, or in a social setting."
Fogarty has embraced the challenge of leadership.
"I pride myself on doing things the right way, and working hard," Fogarty said. "I try to get guys to follow my lead. I think the guys respect me enough, and I sure respect all of the other guys on the team. Once you have that respect from them and they see what you do on a daily basis, that helps. Leadership can help. We have a younger team. That's not an excuse, but we do have a younger team. I think, not just myself, but the other four captains, we all have a big leadership impact. I think we have a good opportunity to do something special."
DiPauli said that leaders build a foundation for success through example on the rink, but that leadership doesn't stay on the ice.
"We have to do the little things right," DiPauli said. "We have to come to the rink mentally and physically ready every day. Being a leader away from the rink is also very important, going to classes, not taking the easy way out, not missing homework. Leadership has a lot of different aspects. I think our senior class is doing a great job with teaching the younger guys the way that Notre Dame student-athletes and hockey players do things."
One of the first acts of Notre Dame's hockey leadership was to make sure the incoming freshmen felt like they were part of the team. On the first day of summer school, the freshmen were invited to the seniors' house to hang out. DiPauli said that the togetherness of the senior class carries over to the bonds that unite the team.
"We're all best friends, and we're all very different," DiPauli said. "Mario and Sam are a little bit more outgoing and like to have fun. Steve is more of a quiet person. He's a great leader and does everything right. I'm very competitive. It kind of brings together a great mix of everything you need in leadership. That's the way you have to lead this team.
"We're taking this very seriously," DiPauli said of leadership. "We have some strict rules this year that we came up with, things that are within the team, but they are things that we think will make us a great team, not just a good team. Everybody knows hockey is a long season. You have to work hard, but you have to relax and have fun, or else you're going to drive yourself crazy if you're thinking hockey, hockey, hockey for eight months straight."
Andy Ryan thinks that the Irish leadership can be a difference-maker.
"I love the leadership on this team," Ryan said. "I think the seniors have been pretty close since we came in here as freshmen. I think we're all pretty high-character guys.
"I think it's the ability to hold other guys accountable, on and off the ice. That's really something we've been focusing on as leaders. That's going to take us far, if we can do that. It can't just be the coaches trying to get guys to do stuff. It's worth more if it comes from us.
"The guys who were here last year realized that we didn't do a good enough job with that last year. That's something we really focused on in the off-season. Going through the pre-season, we made it a focal point to make that a priority. It's not comfortable, but it has to be done, or it's not going to be a good year."
Herr is confident that the Irish seniors have learned the lessons of leadership.
"We're going through a lot of leadership teaching opportunities, and one of things we've learned is leading through example," Herr said. "We've also learned that's not enough. You also have to call people out if they're not living up to the values of the team. If someone is not owning up to the standards of the team, or if they are straying from the pack, you have to make sure you get on them about it.
"Developing a leadership role is being an example, but it's also gaining the respect of your teammates and makings sure you're being accountable of their actions and holding everybody to the highest of standards."
Adhering to the highest of standards is a blueprint for Irish success. And the Irish seniors are showing that they have the precious mettle to make their legacy as leaders golden.
Curt Rallo is a special correspondent for Fighting Irish Media.