If you build it, they will come back

12 year NHL veteran Mark Eaton skates with fellow Notre Dame hockey alumni at the Irish pro hockey camp Tuesday. (WSBT Sports)

12 year NHL veteran Mark Eaton skates with fellow Notre Dame hockey alumni at the Irish pro hockey camp Tuesday. (WSBT Sports) (August 29, 2012)

NOTRE DAME - The brand new Notre Dame Compton Family Ice Arena is hosting an event, the likes of which campus has never seen before.  More than a dozen former Notre Dame hockey players currently playing professionally, are back on campus this week for the first ever Notre Dame pro hockey camp.

It's a sign of how far the Irish hockey program has come in a very short time.

Former Notre Dame hockey player Mark Eaton has experienced just about everything the game of hockey has to offer in his 12 seasons in the NHL.  From the agony of season-ending injuries...to the thrill of winning the Stanley Cup.

But the 35 year old who's hockey career took off as 20 year old freshman skating in the Joyce Center...is amazed by what he sees now.

"It's amazing" Eaton says of the new facility. 

"It rivals a lot of NHL arenas.  An elite program needs an elite building and thats what they have."

Eaton, and a rapidly growing group of Irish hockey alumni in the pros...are spending the week on campus participating in the first ever Notre Dame PRO hockey camp.  A chance for NHL veterans to get back into playing shape with their peers...and reconnect with some old friends in the process.

"This is a great idea and hopefully the start of a great tradition", says Eaton.  "It allows pro guys to get ready for their upcoming pro camps."

These guys play in the best rinks North America has to offer on a nightly basis...but their reaction to the new Compton Family Ice Arena is almost unanimous.

"It's the nicest facility I've been in", former Toronto Maple Leafs forward Christian Hanson says.

"Pro, college, Europe.  It's hands down the nicest I've seen."

Go ahead and chalk it up to a little pride in their program.  And who can blame them?

When these guys were in college...they played in arguably the worst rink in the country.  And some of them weren't on very good teams either.  But over the years, players like Eaton, and 2009 Stanley Cup champion Brett Lebda, and Erik Condra helped turn Notre Dame hockey from a bottom feeder, into one of the premiere programs in the country.

The one thing they didn't get to experience in college...was a great place to call home.  The Joyce Center lacked all the comforts that an NHL rink offers. 

The Irish have that place now.  And it's thanks largely to the contributions of these guys, that they do.  No rise to national prominence?  No growing presence in the pros?  No new rink my friends.

These guys all played a big part in getting that new state of the art facility built.   And now they're enjoying it for themselves.

"It's a lot of fun to come into a building like this",  says Lebda. 

"I wish tit was here when I was here."

Notre Dame has never had a pro camp before, partly because they didn't have a proper place to hold one, and partly because they didn't have enough pros to make it worthwhile.  

Both of those concerns have been eliminated for now.  And likely, forever.

 

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