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Jackson reacts to Notre Dame’s jump to Big Ten

| Thursday, March 24, 2016

It’s official.

Notre Dame announced in a press release Wednesday it will be joining the Big Ten in hockey starting with the 2017-18 season.

“While we have enjoyed our affiliation with Hockey East, the opportunity to participate in Big Ten hockey is a compelling one from the perspective of our student-athletes,” director of athletics Jack Swarbrick said in the release. “The move will significantly reduce the time our team spends traveling, increase the broadcast exposure for our program and allow us to take advantage of the natural rivalries that exist with the Big Ten schools that participate in hockey.”

While Irish head coach Jeff Jackson insisted Wednesday the team is focused on its impending NCAA tournament first round matchup with traditional rival and current Big Ten champion Michigan, he acknowledged such news would be hard for the program to avoid.

“Obviously, it’s a big step for our program,” Jackson said. “Hockey East has been outstanding, and we’re still a member of that league for another season. We’re representing her proud right now. Just like the last time we made a move, I’m gonna be sentimental in some ways, just because you develop relationships. Mostly for me, it’s with coaches. I have strong ties with three or four of the coaches in Hockey East, and that’ll continue. … It’s also a great opportunity for our team. I think it’s gonna be great for our fans. Every opponent coming into our building conference-wise, they’re gonna know. …

“That’s something to look towards and to be excited about in the future. That conference is only going to get better and better as time goes on. There’s very rich traditions at every one of those programs. … It’ll be a challenge, frankly. We’ve played in Minnesota in recent years, and we played at Penn State this past year. It’ll be a big challenge, but most importantly right now we’re still a member of Hockey East and proud of it. We’ve got another season to play in that league, and without question it’s been the best league in the country for a number of years.”

Though the Irish will be saying goodbye to Hockey East and some of the strongest hockey programs in the nation, including perennial powerhouses Boston College, Boston University and reigning national champion Providence, they will also be rekindling old CCHA and WCHA rivalries while also creating some new ones in the Big Ten.

Notre Dame previously played alongside Wisconsin and Minnesota in the WCHA from 1971 to 1981 as well as Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State in the CCHA until it disbanded at the end of the 2012-13 season. Those teams are joined by a relatively new Penn State squad, which joined the NCAA for the first time in 2012, to complete a seven-team Big Ten conference beginning in 2017.

“This is about the long-term position of our program,” Jackson said. “I think that we’re going in with like-minded schools, not that we weren’t with BC and BU and Providence, but the thing is that it’s a little more tied to our Midwestern ties, from our team’s perspective, our players, their parents, our recruiting. If it could have happened a few years ago, it might have happened a few years ago, but at that time it didn’t. We’ll move forward.

“I mentioned yesterday that my resume is gonna look like a crossword puzzle before I leave Notre Dame.”

In the immediate future, the Irish will renew their rivalry with the Wolverines (24-7-5, 12-5-3 Big Ten) Friday night in the Midwest Regional opening round of the NCAA tournament at U.S. Bank Arena in Cincinnati.

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