After tragedy and injury, Adams making points for Irish skaters with his pre-game ritual

John Fineran
Tribune Correspondent
Notre Dame's Jack Adams sets screen in front of Wisconsin's Jared Moe as Wisconsin's Daniel Laatsch defends during the Wisconsin-Notre Dame Big Ten hockey tournament game on Sunday, March 06, 2022, at Compton Family Ice Arena in South Bend, Indiana.

SOUTH BEND — Scoring points in the extremely fast and often turbulent game of college hockey is a tall order for any player, and 6-foot-6 right wing Jack Adams of No. 8 Notre Dame is no exception.

Consistency certainly helps, and the graduate transfer from Union via Providence is consistent. Adams is as consistent in his scoring – in the 13 games which he has notched a point, Notre Dame has won each time – as he is in his pre-game ritual. 

Prior to the first period of every game, as the Fighting Irish are returning to the locker room for final words from coach Jeff Jackson, Adams goes to one knee, blesses himself, silently prays, blesses himself again and looks upward beyond the roofs of the buildings he is about to play in.

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Adams planned not to change a thing Saturday night in Ann Arbor on the Red Berenson Rink in the Yost Ice Arena just before Notre Dame (27-10-0) met No. 4 Michigan (27-9-1) in the semifinal round of the Big Ten Postseason Tournament.

It’s one big way the 25-year-old Adams – the oldest player on the Notre Dame roster – has ingratiated himself to his teammates and Jackson, who has good-naturedly called the Boston native “Grandpa” for the way he’s stepped up his game of late while playing with two freshmen – 18-year-old left wing Justin Janicke and 19-year-old center Hunter Strand.

Notre Dame players celebrate goal by Notre Dame's Jack Adams during the Wisconsin-Notre Dame Big Ten hockey tournament game on Sunday, March 06, 2022, at Compton Family Ice Arena in South Bend, Indiana.

“I called him (Jackson) out about that (the “Grandpa” nickname) when I heard about it the other day,” Adams joked. “I told him he’s not too young, either.”

The 66-year-old Jackson, in his 17th season working the Irish bench after winning a pair of NCAA Championships at Lake Superior State in the 1990s, couldn’t be happier that Adams wanted to join the Irish program.

“Jack is a great kid, a great locker-room guy,” the normally low-key Jackson said. “I looked at him as a reclamation project. He missed a full year and a half having major reconstruction on his knee after he went through a pretty traumatic period with the loss of his brother. He’s made a significant impact on this team.”

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Since Jan. 1, only nine Irish players have contributed more offensively than Adams, who has nine points with five assists and four goals, the latest coming last Sunday to start Notre Dame on its way to a 4-2 Game 3 victory over Wisconsin in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals. 

From an almost impossible angle in the corner along the goal line, Adams wristed the puck toward Badgers goalie Jared Moe. The puck somehow found its way to the back of the goal, after which Adams immediately skated over to the Irish bench and leaped into the arms of waiting teammates in front of a smiling Jackson.

You like to think his brother, Mark “Roo” Adams, was smiling too. You see, Jack Adams’ pregame prayers on the ice remember Roo, a defenseman on Providence’s 2015 NCAA championship team who tragically died of a heart attack at the age of 27 in the fall of 2018 just before Jack’s sophomore season at Union College in Schenectady, New York.

“It happened so fast on (September) 18th, and we played two weeks later,” Adams recalled. “I lost like 30 pounds in two weeks, and it was really challenging seeing your family like that. But everyone at Union College was amazing – my teachers, coaches and teammates were unbelievable.”

Adams was in the lineup when Union opened the 2018-19 season against visiting Army Oct. 6, and he assisted on Union’s first goal in a 4-1 victory over the Black Knights. 

“Having my family there and being able to celebrate a win in honor of Roo was crazy and emotional,” Adams recalled fondly. “That was probably the most special moment of my hockey career.”

The Bulldogs finished the 2018-19 season with a 20-13-6 record as Adams, a sixth-round pick (162nd overall) of the Detroit Red Wings in the 2017 NHL Draft, finished with 10 goals and 22 points. 

That summer, Adams attended the Red Wings’ development camp in Detroit and was turning heads with his play when he suffered a severe injury to his right knee in the camp’s Red and White Game on June 29 that required surgery.

“It was a seemingly harmless hit on the second shift of the game. I finished the shift, but I could tell something was wrong,” Adams said.

Notre Dame's Jack Adams (22) collides with Ohio State's Will Riedell during the Notre Dame vs. Ohio State NCAA hockey game Friday, Dec. 3, 2021 at the Compton Family Ice Arena in South Bend.

Adams would have surgery to repair damaged cartilage and torn anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments. He would miss the entire 2019-20 Union season rebuilding his knee to where he could walk, run, jump, and finally skate again.

“It was really hard, emotionally damaging and mentally challenging,” Adams said. “But my parents and siblings are the reason why I kept playing and coming back.”

But then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and Union shuttered its hockey program for the 2020-21 season. Wanting to continue his career, Adams entered the transfer portal. An old teammate with the USHL’s Fargo Force, Notre Dame’s Michael Graham, got in touch, but Notre Dame couldn’t work things out academically. Adams then transferred to Providence to play for Roo’s old coach Nate Leaman.

But Adams came down with COVID-19 just after he arrived on campus, and he eventually played in just six games without scoring. After last season with his bachelor’s degree in hand, Adams went looking again and Notre Dame was able to accept him as a graduate transfer. He is seeking a master’s degree working with non-profit organizations like his family’s Roo Adams Friar4Ever Foundation (Roo wore No. 4 at Providence).

“Having people in your corner helps with the recovery,” Adams said knowingly. He remembers the Instagram support he got from Super Bowl-champion wide receiver Julian Edelman of the New England Patriots, who suffered an ACL injury in 2017 but recovered. Edelman reminded Adams that “tough times don’t last, tough people do.”

A fitting end to this season would be if Notre Dame somehow makes it to the NCAA Frozen Four (the 16-team tournament will be announced Sunday, March 20) on April 7 and 9 in Boston’s TD Garden where Roo Adams joyfully skated around the ice holding the NCAA championship trophy.

Jack Adams knows his brother will be watching.