SOUTH BEND, Ind. – The Chicago Blackhawks opened training camp in unfamiliar territory, with a pair of NCAA Frozen Four banners hanging overhead instead of Stanley Cup banners and a sign at the other end of the rink reading: “God, country, Notre Dame.”
The Blackhawks took to the ice in two separate shifts Thursday at the Compton Family Ice Arena, which sits on the edge of the Notre Dame campus in the shadows of the Golden Dome and Touchdown Jesus, just across the parking lot from Notre Dame Stadium.
“When you walk into this place and see the mystique, I think it’s perfect,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said.
Conn Smythe Trophy winner Patrick Kane said starting training camp 100 miles from Chicago gave the opening practice a different feel.
“It’s exciting to be here at such a historic place as Notre Dame. To be part of it is fun,” he said.
Quenneville compared it to the first day of school, saying he believes being together away from the city should help bring camaraderie because they are more likely to do things together. Most of the squad spent Wednesday afternoon watching the football team practice, and team president John McDonough spoke to the Fighting Irish.
“They were some cool guys,” Notre Dame nose guard Louis Nix III said. “I’m not a big hockey fan, but I might just jump on the bandwagon.”
Irish coach Brian Kelly said Thursday he was happy to have the Blackhawks at practice, even though he was cheering for the Boston Bruins in the finals.
“They’re champions. They’re winners. We like to have winners around us, so it was great to have them. Even as a Bruins fan,” he said.
Several of the Blackhawks players said they enjoyed watching the Irish practice.
“They’re working hard, I can tell. It was hot and muggy from the rain,” defenceman Brent Seabrook said. “It was nice to see something like that.”
Even goalie Nikolai Khabibulin, a Russia native, said it was exciting to be on campus, saying one of the first movies he ever watched in English was “Rudy.” He played with the Blackhawks from 2005-09 and signed as a free agent during the off-season. He said he senses a different feeling in the locker room.
“It seems like there’s more confidence in the room,” he said. “Whether it’s the guys being here or the guys in the minors, it seem like there’s kind of a swagger, I guess. It’s explainable. You win two Stanley Cups in four years, it makes you that way.”
The Blackhawks are expecting standing-room only crowds of more than 5,000 fans to watch practices Saturday and Sunday. Quenneville said he that should add some energy for the Blackhawks, who have played before sellout crowds for 227 straight home games.
“I think it’s going to help with the pace. I think guys love playing in that type of environment,” he said.
All the Blackhawks took part in practice. Quenneville said Michal Rozsival and Michal Handzus would take part in practices but not in scrimmages in the next several days as they continue to recover from injuries.