Graham Slaggert scoring big goals on and off ice as No. 7 Notre Dame enters Big Ten tourney
SOUTH BEND — For Graham Slaggert, it always has been about getting the little things right whether on the ice or off it.
Do the right things and good things generally result as the 22-year-old Slaggert has witnessed first-hand in almost a lifetime around coach Jeff Jackson’s hockey program at Notre Dame. Being in the right place at the right times doesn’t hurt, either.
“It’s been a fun year,” Slaggert said earlier this week as No. 7 Notre Dame (25-9) prepared for its best-of-three quarterfinal series in the Big Ten Postseason Tournament that begins tonight at 7 at the Lefty Smith Rink in the Compton Family Ice Arena against Wisconsin (9-22-3). “We’re really looking forward to what is ahead of us. I always feel like we’re overlooked by outside sources, but the group we have we’re super confident in what we can do.”
That super confidence has paid dividends, especially when playing an elite college team like No. 2 Michigan, which featured seven first-round NHL draft choices, four of whom on the USA and Canadian Olympic teams in the recent Beijing games.
Last Friday night, the Irish found themselves down 1-0 early in the first period to the first-place Wolverines, who were hoping to avenge a pair of overtime losses that Notre Dame had inflicted back in November at Ann Arbor.
The 6-foot, 191-pound Slaggert received a behind-the-net pass from linemate Trevor Janicke and then whistled the puck back to the point to defenseman Nick Leivermann. Slaggert then skated into the faceoff circle to get in position for a possible rebound of Leivermann’s shot at Michigan’s 6-foot-6 goaltender Erik Portillo.
Leivermann’s blast was tipped by Janicke away from Portillo, but Slaggert got to the rebound quicker than Michigan defenseman Ethan Edwards and fired the puck past Portillo to tie the game. Notre Dame was off to a 4-1 victory that began a two-game sweep of the series (the Irish won 2-1 Saturday) and a four-game sweep this season of the Wolverines, who fell to second behind Minnesota in the final Big Ten standings.
Despite nagging injuries, the Irish have won eight of their last nine games, including their last five in a row since a 5-3 loss at Wisconsin Feb. 12. After the last two seasons were ended by the COVID-19 issues, the Irish hope to make a run at their third Big Ten postseason title (the last came in Slaggert’s freshman year of 2018-19) and a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, which ends with the Frozen Four in Boston April 7 and 9.
“We played really good hockey last weekend and that’s the standard we want moving forward,” Slaggert said. “We want to be that detailed and motivated from here on out.”
In 33 games, Slaggert has nine goals and nine assists for 18 points while centering a line that includes sophomore brother Landon Slaggert (10-12-22) and Janicke (13-8-21). Graham also is among the team leaders in blocking shots (28) and winning faceoffs (he’s 255-241 for a .514 winning percentage). He and Landon play key roles on Notre Dame’s nationally No. 2 penalty-kill units.
“Graham has certainly improved his competitive aspect – he’s getting into more gritty areas on the ice,” Jackson said. “It hasn’t translated as well as he or we had hoped offensively in the goal-scoring department. But he’s been sound and played really good hockey down the stretch.”
Slaggert, whose father Andy played hockey on Notre Dame and has been a long-time assistant including all 17 seasons of Jackson’s tenure at Notre Dame, has more than justified the leadership role Jackson bestowed upon him, fellow senior Jake Pivonka and grad-transfer (from Connecticut) Adam Karashik in making them captains.
“As instrumental as he’s been on the ice, I think more about Graham’s character and his off-ice performance in the classroom and in the community,” Jackson added.
Slaggert, who has been Academic All-Big Ten the past two seasons and has a 3.46 grade-point average with a major in management consulting and a minor in Africana Studies, serves on the school’s student-athlete advisory council. He has been involved through winter clothes drives, car washes and uniform auctions to raise funds for the 525 Foundation which raises funds and awareness to alcohol and drug misuse, former Notre Dame and NHL player Stephen Jones’ #MentalMiles initiative, and the Fighting Irish Fight for Life organization which works with pediatric cancer patients.
Slaggert has become good friends with local youngster Rudy Chapman, who is battling the disease and can be seen on the bench in pre-game warmups cheering on his adopted team and exchanging squirts from water bottles with Slaggert.
“Rudy is absolutely incredible and an awesome addition to our program,” Slaggert said. “Having those moments before games with Rudy is fun. He brings a positive energy to the guys and the locker room.”
As Graham Slaggert has learned, you don’t need to score goals to win those kinds of championships.
BIG TEN HOCKEY TOURNAMENT
Who: Sixth-seeded Wisconsin vs. third-seeded Notre Dame in best-of-three quarterfinal series
When: Friday at 7 p.m., Saturday at 6 p.m. and (if necessary) Sunday at 6 p.m. EST
Where: Lefty Smith Rink in Compton Family Ice Arena (4,850), South Bend
TV/Streaming: Big Ten+
Radio: WZOC-FM (94.3) and UND.com