Notre Dame-Michigan hockey to play in Notre Dame Stadium

John Fineran
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND – What has been expected for months finally became reality Monday afternoon with the announcement that Notre Dame and Michigan will play a Big Ten Conference outdoor hockey game in Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday, Jan. 5 at 3:30 p.m.

The game is being branded “Let’s Take This Outside 2019,” and coach Jeff Jackson is excited about playing the Wolverines in the same building where the two schools’ football teams opened the 2018 season Sept. 1.

“When you think about Notre Dame and the mystique of the stadium — ‘The House That Rockne Built’ — (that) once they put in the turf, we knew we might have a chance to play a game in the stadium,” Jackson said. “It’s a tribute to our program and playing Michigan makes it that much more special.”

The Irish have played no college hockey team more than Michigan, which holds a 76-59 edge in the 140-game series.

Ever since Notre Dame and the National Hockey League announced that the Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins would play the 2019 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic on Jan. 1, there have been whispers around both college programs that one of the games in South Bend would be played outside the Compton Family Ice Arena.

When both schools released their schedules during the summer, the Notre Dame home series for the rivalry showed games scheduled for Jan. 5 (at a time to be determined) and Tuesday, Feb. 12 (at 7:30 p.m.). Hockey series normally are scheduled for back-to-back nights, or in the case last season and other

past seasons for the Irish and Wolverines, with a day in between to accommodate home-and-home weekend games.

When Notre Dame and NBC Sports announced their television schedule Oct. 15, the Jan. 5 Michigan home game was listed as a 3:30 p.m. start, further fueling speculation that it would be played in Notre Dame Stadium.

The reason for the delay of the announcement of the outdoor game and where it would be played was out of deference to Notre Dame’s NHL partners who are supplying the surface and the setup in the stadium. The NHL wanted to make sure its tickets sales for the Blackhawks-Bruins contest would not be adversely affected by an outdoor college game. In addition, the ice surface is expected to be down for a couple of weeks in order that other activities and games — high school and youth — can be staged there.

Monday’s release stated that tickets for the outdoor game between Michigan and Notre Dame would go on sale to the public Monday, Nov. 5 starting at 6 p.m. Seating prices have not been announced but are expected to be in line with the prices Notre Dame charges for games played on the Lefty Smith Rink at the Compton Family Ice Arena.

Current Notre Dame season ticket holders will receive their tickets, and fans who have tickets for the Winter Classic game can use a promo code NDHOCKEY to purchase tickets before the public sale. More information can be obtained by calling 833-ND-IRISH or visiting und.com/buytickets.

The game will have some competition on campus that day. Just across from the stadium, the Notre Dame men’s basketball team is scheduled to play an Atlantic Coast Conference game Jan. 5 against Syracuse starting at noon.

Prior to the 1968 establishment of the varsity program that played its games in the north dome of the Joyce Center, the Irish played games outside at Howard Park’s ice rink and at other outdoor lakes on the Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s campuses.

“We’ll get a practice in there probably,” Jackson said. “The biggest thing about playing outdoors is the conditions (of the ice and the weather). Considering it’s after the Winter Classic, the ice conditions will be at the very best. You can’t predict snow, you can’t predict the temperature.”

This will be the third time Notre Dame has played an outdoor game, which have become a rage in recent years in both the NHL and at the college level. The Irish beat Miami (Ohio), 2-1, on Feb. 18, 2013 at Chicago’s Soldier Field and lost to Boston College, 4-3, the following season (Jan. 4, 2014) at Boston’s Fenway Park.

“When we played at Fenway Park, the ice conditions were not good — there was constant maintenance because they had a nor’easter that weekend,” Jackson said. “When we played at Soldier Field, we had awesome conditions. The ice still had issues at times, but it was a beautiful sunny day with high skies and a great crowd (52,051).”

Just before Jackson and the Irish played their first game at the Compton facility on Oct. 21, 2011, Lefty Smith, who coached the Irish from 1968 to 1987, was asked about the possibility of playing an outdoor game inside Notre Dame Stadium.

The usual jovial Smith was blunt. “We’ve finally got a new, beautiful facility and you want to play an outdoor game?” he said.

Smith, who died Jan. 3, 2012, and his long-time Michigan counterpart and friend, the late Al Renfrew, should have the best seats in the house on Jan. 5.

Notre Dame’s Matt Hellickson (5) scores on Michigan goaltender Hayden Lavigne (30) during Notre Dame’s 2-1 victory on Jan. 7, 2018, at the Compton Family Ice Arena .