SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Grantland Rice’s column on the Four Horsemen of Notre Dame signified a truly astonishing time for sports writing in the 1920’s. Rice’s lede lives on in sports journalism lore.
“Outlined by a blue-gray October sky, the Four Horsemen of Notre Dame rode again,” Rice wrote following that faithful Notre Dame-Army contest at the old Polo Grounds in Upper Manhattan.
Substitute October with January over 90 years later for the 2019 NHL Winter Classic and you have a similar blue-gray sky hovering over Notre Dame where the Four Horsemen once called home. The league’s marquee outdoor event took center stage featuring the Bruins and Blackhawks on the legendary South Bend campus.
Notre Dame’s marquee backfield of quarterback Harry Studhler, left halfback Jim Crowley, right halfback Don Miller, and fullback Elmer Layden dominated the Knute Rockne era in the Roaring Twenties. All have their rightful spots in the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta — formerly located in South Bend.
The Bruins had three marquee names on the hallowed grounds of Notre Dame Stadium some decades later. Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak may very well have their names enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame one day in Toronto. At the very least, their Winter Classic performance against the Blackhawks on New Year’s Day marked another tape for the old highlight reel.
“They were good again tonight, they had to be,” head coach Bruce Cassidy said about Marchand, Bergeron, and Pastrnak. “If we’re going to win, our best players have to be our best players and the followers [have to] follow. Give credit to [Sean] Kuraly for doing that. He’s been big for us, too. But to get back to your question, that line — I think they play better against good players, and they had that matchup tonight [against the Blackhawks’ top line] and they were good.”
It wasn’t just the final stat line that showcased the top line’s outing during their 4-2 victory in front of a worldwide audience and 76,126 paying customers. Each member had their own highlight appropriate for the event’s pageantry.
First came David Pastrnak — one of only two Bruins to play to play in all 40 games — tying the game at 1 in the first period with his 24th goal of the season. The goal was impressive in its own right, but his LeBron James-like celebration became a trending topic on social media.
“I was trying to de LeBron’s [dance], but it didn’t work,” Pastrnak laughed.
“I was a little thrown off; I’ve never seen him do that before,” Marchand said about Pastrnak’s celebration. “You get a goal like that, you can do whatever you want. So it was good to see him enjoy it.”
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) January 1, 2019
Marchand got to enjoy a cherry on top moment with his empty-netter — his 13th of the season — to secure the two-goal victory.
As for Bergeron, well, he provided his prototypical two-way moment during a big game-changing swing in the second period.
With a 2-1 lead, the Blackhawks had a golden chance to get a two-goal advantage toward the end of the middle stanza. But Bergeron’s backcheck on David Kampf’s breakaway attempt briefly kept the deficit intact. The longest-tenured Bruin then made the transition up ice and scored a greasy goal to tie things up at 2 with his 13th of the season — and fourth in his five games since returning from a rib injury.
“Obviously, on that play, I see that Pasta [Pastrnak] coughed up the puck, so I tried to get back right away and of course catch up to the guy and made a defensive play,” Bergeron said regarding his momentum-changing play.
“Once [Kampf] went to his backhand, I knew he was going to go back to his forehand, so I was waiting for him to do that and just lift up his stick. And then after that, I saw him go for a change — and I think someone broke his stick, too. So that was kind of the play, and I felt like we had an advantage there to make some plays [offensively]. It bounced a few times and it wasn’t pretty, but we’ll take it and I thought it was a goal we needed to go into the third period.”
Rask answered his question about his vantage point on the play. But not before saying “Selke” two times beforehand.
“Well, I think unfortunately those [plays] happen too often when we’re on the power play that some kind of weird bounce leads to a 2-on-1 or a breakaway,” said Rask, who’s seen his team give up a league-high eight shorthanded goals this season. “But I saw Bergy [Bergeron] coming back hard. I just tried to get my gap right — the guy is coming in hard thinking he has a breakaway — and give him not much net to shoot at, and then obviously Bergy made a great play there.”
Three down, one to go. Who would be the fourth horseman on this night? You could make a case for Rask, who bounced back from his disastrous 2016 Winter Classic outing against the Montreal Canadiens at Gillette Stadium. But there’s one player that Cassidy alluded to in his aforementioned comments.
The honor on this night goes to Sean Kuraly. Donning his full shield a few weeks after breaking his nose, Kuraly banked home a Cam Ward rebound in the third period to give the Bruins a 3-2 lead with his second game-winner in as many games.
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) January 1, 2019
“If it keeps going, I don’t know,” Kuraly said about keeping his shield going forward. “I may just stretch it out and tell the medical staff to keep it on.”
Make no mistake, the top line led the way in front of the second-largest outdoor hockey crowd ever. The others, including Kuraly, followed.
Kuraly plays and looks different than Boston’s top line, both figuratively and literally. He may not have his name etched in the Toronto halls, but he had has highlight and became an honorary member of the Bruins’ version of the Four Horsemen.