SOUTH BEND — It’s been almost 40 years since the USA Miracle on Ice — the 4-3 victory over the USSR on Feb. 22 at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y. — and the late Herb Brooks is still inspiring hockey players, some of whom are using their skills to help others.
One of Brooks’ many quotations — “Legs feed the wolf” — is something Notre Dame sophomore forward Graham Slaggert has heard often in the locker room and at the dinner table from father Andy Slaggert, a former Notre Dame hockey player under the late Lefty Smith and one of current coach Jeff Jackson’s associate head coaches.
“Legs feed the wolf” was Brooks’ way of telling his Olympic players that speed and quickness can produce goals to win hockey games. Two Saturday nights ago at the Pegula Ice Arena during the third period of Notre Dame’s Big Ten hockey game at Penn State, the 6-foot, 187-pound Slaggert demonstrated it.
With the game tied 2-2 and the series seemingly headed for a second straight overtime game, Slaggert saw Irish defenseman Nate Clurman pass the puck over to fellow sophomore blueliner Spencer Stastney, and a quick glance by Slaggert created an opportunity.
“I saw the open ice and I took it,” Slaggert said. “Spencer made an incredible pass and I was lucky to get behind the defense.”
Stastney’s pass of perhaps 80 feet found Slaggert’s stick just before he entered the Penn State zone, and Slaggert quickly maneuvered in on Penn State goalie Peyton Jones before depositing the puck behind him at 15:00 of the third period for the game-winning goal in Notre Dame’s eventual 4-2 victory.
“When Graham’s playing his game and using his speed effectively, he becomes a much more dangerous player offensively,” Jackson said. “Graham is a guy who thrives on confidence.”
Lately Slaggert, who has five goals and nine points this season splitting time at left wing and center, has been building on it. He scored a goal in Notre Dame’s 4-4 overtime tie at Ohio State and then had the second tally in a penalty-shot shootout that earned the Irish another crucial point in the Big Ten standings.
Entering the third-to-last series of the regular season against a torrid Minnesota team this weekend at Notre Dame’s Lefty Smith Rink in the Compton Family Ice Arena, the Irish find themselves in fifth place with 28 points, just five behind first-place Penn State and three behind Minnesota, Michigan State and Ohio State.
It’s a big series for both the Irish and Gophers, who along with the Spartans have two more games (six each) to play than the Nittany Lions and Buckeyes (four each). With three points available from each game, you can make up deficits pretty quickly as Minnesota, winner of five of its last six, has done recently.
It’s an even bigger series for Slaggert, who is the unofficial spokesman in Notre Dame partnering with the local 525 Foundation to bring awareness to opioid misuse and abuse.
Slaggert played in the Irish Youth Hockey League and for the Irish Rovers hockey team with Jack Savage, who along with older brother Nick passed away in June of 2015 after mixing the prescription drug oxycodone with alcohol at a high school graduation party. The Savage brothers wore numbers 5 and 25 for the Penn High School club team, thus the name for the foundation put together by their parents Becky and Mike.
On Saturday night, which has been designated an “Irish Wear Green” game, Notre Dame will have special “Drop 2 Stop” boxes available in the Compton Family Ice Arena for attendees to drop off old and unused prescription drugs before the game.
The Irish also will wear special white jerseys with green-scripted “Irish” in front, green shamrocks on the shoulder and green numbers that will be part of a silent auction online (auctions.und.com) to raise funds for the foundation. The bidding for the game-used jerseys starts Friday.
“It’s just hard to imagine what that family went through and the pain they have felt,” Slaggert said. “It’s been so incredible to see how they’ve turned it around to create so much good out of it. It is special to do this for them.”
Becky Savage, who met with the Irish a few weeks ago, is thankful for the opportunity to bring the foundation’s message to a different audience. “Any time we can get our message in front of new faces, it’s a win,” she said.
Nick and Jack had the chance to play hockey together at Penn, something Graham will have with brother Landon, who will be an incoming freshman next fall. Landon is a forward for the U.S. National Under-18 team who had a hat trick recently against Sweden and has 12 goals and 22 points this season.
“That’s going to be special,” Slaggert said.