Hockey: Blackhawks arrive at ND
By Sam Gans | Wednesday, September 11, 2013
“What a place.”
Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville’s first statement to the media on the eve of his team’s training camp wasn’t in reference to the United Center, the squad’s home arena.
When the defending Stanley Cup champions hit the ice today to begin preparation for the defense of their title, they’ll do so in the Compton Family Ice Arena, 90 miles east of their home city.
The Blackhawks arrived in South Bend on Wednesday and will spend the first four days of camp at Notre Dame before they return to Chicago after Sunday’s practice.
Initial talks between the Blackhawks and the Irish hockey department about the University hosting the team’s camp began nine months ago, said Blackhawks vice president and general manager Stan Bowman, a 1995 Notre Dame graduate. The Blackhawks announced the decision on July 22.
Bowman said the Blackhawks were particularly interested in starting camp away from Chicago after they won the Cup in June in order to shift focus away from last season and toward the new one. He said a number of factors made Notre Dame a great choice to host.
“Logistically, it’s going to work out really, really nice for us,” Bowman said. “There’s two sheets of ice, which also is a benefit as we have a lot of players here to start camp and I think there’s something to be said for our guys that come in together and spending some time – five days together as a team.
“I think certainly we have a lot of fans in this region, as well, and it’s nice to be able to connect with them and get them to see us. Maybe they don’t get up to Chicago as often and we can certainly solidify them as Blackhawks fans.”
Quenneville said he was pleasantly surprised by Compton’s amenities.
“I was looking around here thinking, ‘Notre Dame: It’s old school, it’s got the tradition,’ and everything looks brand new around here. It looks spectacular.”
Chicago captain and center Jonathan Toews, who played two seasons of NCAA hockey at North Dakota, had a similar reaction.
“It’s a great building,” he said. “I heard a lot about it. A couple of buddies that I played college hockey with have been here before and they were raving about it, so I kind of had high expectations.”
Blackhawks president and CEO John McDonough also formally announced Wednesday that Bowman received a two-year contract extension through the 2017-18 season, resulting in a special moment at the alma mater of the man who orchestrated the roster of last season’s NHL champions.
“It’s quite a backdrop for me to be here at the university where I spent four of the best years of my life,” Bowman said. “I loved it here. It was a special place. I think anyone who’s been around the school knows it.”
Bowman also said the team will consider possibly making Notre Dame a permanent home for the start of its training camp.
“There’s a lot of excitement from our players’ perspective,” he said. “I’ve talked to some of them and a few comments they made were, ‘Normally, I don’t get that excited about the start of training camp, but this year, I’m actually pretty interested to see what it’s all about.'”
The Blackhawks begin camp at 10 a.m. today with a practice closed to the public. The team will hold a free-to-attend practice for only Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s students Friday at 10:30 a.m. Tickets for the squad’s Saturday and Sunday practices, open to the public, are sold out.
Chicago opens its preseason schedule Tuesday at home against Detroit and begins regular season play Oct. 1 at home against Washington.
Contact Sam Gans at [email protected]