SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Former Notre Dame standout Anders Bjork didn’t join the Bruins for the Winter Classic. Stan Bowman, on the other hand, accompanied the Blackhawks for the hour-plus drive from Chicago.
The Vice President and General Manager of the Blackhawks knows a thing or two about the gorgeous South Bend campus after graduating in 1995 with degrees in Finance and Computer Applications. He put that trade to good use, orchestrating Chicago’s three Stanley Cup titles this decade.
He was also behind the Blackhawks moving their training camp to the state of the art Compton Family Ice Arena, home of the Notre Dame men’s ice hockey team. But his biggest thrill came nearly two summers ago when his boss, CEO John McDonagh, notified him of the league picking the historic Notre Dame Stadium for its annual Winter Classic.
Bowman dreamed about going to Notre Dame after his first visit. Now, his dream of seeing his team perform on the same field once graced by Knute Rockne, The Four Horsemen, Paul Hornung, and Joe Montana (to name a few) is a reality.
“This is a special place for me. I came here for the first time when I was probably 12 years old,” Bowman recalled. “My best friend growing up in Buffalo, his older brother was a student here, so we came here for a football game. I didn’t know much about Notre Dame back then. This is in the mid ’80s and I came on a football weekend. For people who have been to that event, you’re like ‘wow’ it’s pretty special. So from that moment on I wanted to be a student here.”
“I can’t take credit for getting the game here,” Bowman added. “I always hoped that someday we were able to play a game here and then about a year or two ago, I got the word from John McDonagh that they had chosen Notre Dame as the place and that Chicago was going to play Boston so it put a big smile on my face.”
It would’ve put a big smile on Bjork’s face, too. But the struggling forward, who is slowly finding his offensive groove again down in Providence, is still waiting for another call-up.
Disappointed as he may be, Bjork is fine providing some expertise about the history, the allure and a basic list of things to do for his fellow Boston teammates, including Jake DeBrusk.
“It’s amazing. You get to see [the history] all around the stadium here, especially when you walk in,” the Edmonton-born DeBrusk said. “It’s just one of those things where as a guy growing up in Canada — I didn’t go to college and I don’t know too much about it — and I’m trying to learn as much as I can. It’s just one of those things where you look around and go and take some pictures. I talked to Bjorky [Bjork] about it as well to find some place to go eat, or things to do around here.”
South Bend isn’t exactly an entertainment hub. Notre Dame football games are the city’s main selling point.
The Stadium itself rarely holds any event besides Notre Dame football outside of a Hollywood adaptation of Rudy. Garth Brooks’ concert in October marked the first time the historic 78,000-seat venue held an event other than a football gameday. The Winter Classic marks the first sporting extravaganza not related to the iconic college football squad.
The Blackhawks are no strangers to the Notre Dame campus given their past training camp experience. But this is different. Come 1 p.m. Tuesday, they’ll make their way out of the football locker room en route to the tunnel in the north end zone — touching the iconic Play Like a Champion sign on the way there — and make their way toward the ice with Touchdown Jesus looming above.
“So much history,” Blackhawks superstar Patrick Kane said. “For us, you just think about having training camp here…you watch that movie Rudy growing up all the time and there’s some pretty amazing scenes there. It’s pretty amazing that you’re actually going to be performing out there.”
Kane and the Blackhawks are quite familiar with the outdoor hockey scene. Yet they only have one win in six games in the elements. That came in 2014 when they downed Sidney Crosby and the Penguins at venerable Soldier Field.
Chicago would like nothing more than to win its second outdoor game in franchise history. Brad Marchand, playing in his first outdoor game three years after missing the 2016 version at Gillette Stadium because of a suspension, has other ideas.
“It would be cool to score in a game like this, but I think we’re more concerned about winning,” Marchand said. “At the end of the day, it’s two points, and it’s not like we’re winning the Cup or anything. It’s an important game and we want to win. Hopefully we enjoy it, but yeah it would obviously be cool to score in a game like this.”
The game is only worth two points in the standings, but the memories of playing at the home of the Fighting Irish football squad will last a lifetime.