SOUTH BEND

Landon Slaggert has been on cloud nine these last three months — skating for Notre Dame’s hockey team, being drafted in the third round of the National Hockey League draft by the Chicago Blackhawks and winning a gold medal with Team USA in the recent World Junior Championship.

Not bad for the 18-year-old South Bend native who is skating and grinding on a line with junior brother Graham for Jeff Jackson’s Fighting Irish for whom his father Andy is an associate head coach.

A 6-foot, 180-pound left wing, Landon Slaggert started playing the game in the Irish Youth Hockey League, moved on to junior hockey in Chicago and then to the USA Hockey National Development Team Program for two years, earning a hockey scholarship to Notre Dame and making the Team USA roster after tryouts late last year in Plymouth, Michigan.

Then in a space of four days last week, Slaggert received his gold medal following Team USA’s victory over heavily favored host Team Canada in the COVID-19 bubble of Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, and returned to score two goals in Notre Dame’s 5-4 home victory over Arizona State last Saturday night.

“It’s definitely been an emotional year … it’s crazy with everything going on in the world,” said Landon Slaggert, who has three goals and two assists in eight games this season for the Irish. “Obviously to play my first game in a Notre Dame sweater and also to get drafted by the Blackhawks were special moments for me and my family. And then competing in the World Juniors. Those are three pretty big things that have brought some joy and enlightenment in this tough year of 2020.”

The World Juniors tournament over Christmas has always been a big deal for Landon, who remembers donning USA jerseys with Graham and their youngest brother Carter for “mini-sticks” games before they would watch Team USA games in the hockey household they share with parents Andy and Tara.

“(Playing for Team USA) has always been a dream of mine growing up,” Landon said of the annual tournament played in late December and early January. “I knew it could be possible to play on the team. It was special to live out the experience.”

An experience capped with a 2-0 victory over Team Canada.

“We knew it would be a tough match,” Slaggert said. “This Canada team was one of their best they’ve suited up at the World Juniors with all their first-rounders. We knew it would be a challenge, but we were confident that we had what it takes to win the gold medal.”

Though he did not score a point in the seven games Team USA played, Slaggert was an integral part of the squad, according to head coach Nate Leaman, who is now back behind the bench at Providence after guiding Team USA back from its opening 5-3 loss to Russia on Christmas Day with six consecutive victories over Austria, the Czech Republic, Sweden, Slovakia, Finland and Canada.

“Landon played a huge part in our gold medal; we don’t win without him,” Leaman said. “He was our fourth-line center. He won faceoffs, played straight-line, hard hockey and was in our top penalty-killing pair. He was on the ice at the end of games because he has such great detail in his game, has great speed and plays hard. The only negative with Landon is he wears shorts and flip flops everywhere in the middle of winter. But he’s a winner in every way and he’s captain material at Notre Dame in the future, I am sure. He cares about his teammates and was loved by all the players.”

“Landon made that team based on what he does,” said Jackson, whose 5-6-1 Irish visit No. 1 Minnesota Friday and Saturday night in an important Big Ten Conference series. “A big part of that is his compete level — his skating, his tenacity. I thought he did a good job in playing his role.”

Others, too, have seen how Slaggert has embraced his role as a hockey grinder.

“Landon does a lot of the little things very well,” said former Notre Dame standout Mike McNeill, who played in the NHL for the Blackhawks and Quebec and now oversees the Compton Family Ice Arena. “He’s a hound on the puck. When he goes after the puck, he wants to get the puck and he finds a way to get it. When he backchecks, he hounds that player. But he has offensive capabilities, too — he can make plays, he can score.”

“The thing that stands out to me about Landon is the puck just seems to follow him around the ice,” said Kevin Deeth, who played for Jackson from 2006-10 and now teaches hockey skills to youth players. “It is like he has it on a rope. It doesn’t matter if he is playing defense on you or if he has the puck, you can’t get it away from him, but he always gets it away from you.”

Grinders like Landon Slaggert win championships.