The lulled crowd erupted, as it always does, midway through the second period of Notre Dame’s second-to-last home game of the regular season. The Irish were leading Bowling Green 3-1, but there was no flashy goal or bone-jarring hit that brought the fans to their feet at Compton Family Ice Arena.
Adm. William Fogarty is honored on the videoboard at Compton Family Ice Arena during an Irish home game on March 2.
Attention shifted a dozen rows behind the home team bench. The applause swelled and the players on the ice below joined in, banging their sticks against the boards and looking up as the public address announcer read through the accomplished résumé of Admiral William Fogarty.
Fogarty, who has seven commands at sea including a lead role in patrolling the Persian Gulf during Operation Desert Storm, was Notre Dame’s military guest that night. In each of the 40 home games hosted at the two-year-old, $50 million arena the Irish have honored an active service member or veteran. Saturday night will be No. 41, possibly the last such celebration of the year.
He or she stands beside the American flag on the ice along with a color guard for the national anthem. Throughout the game, fans approach them to shake hands and express gratitude. Afterward, many of them visit Notre Dame’s locker room. But the highlight for all is the second period. The crowd drowns out twanged strains of country music as the game pauses to thank the guests for their service in what is almost always the loudest din of the night.
“It was surreal,” Fogarty said. “It just kept getting louder and louder like they had scored a goal or something. That was pretty cool. When I waved the place just lit up and the siren went off.”
You can’t stumble more than a few feet on Notre Dame’s campus without bumping into some sort of tradition. That word, tradition, is tied to the university and its sports teams as much as any other. Once a tradition slips inside the canon, Irish fans treat it as treasured and timeless, handed down on stone tablets from Sinai. This new tradition is fast becoming one of their finest.
The idea itself is borrowed. The Chicago Blackhawks for several years have honored a military member on the ice during their unique and stirring version of the Star Spangled Banner. Tom Nevala, Compton’s general manager, wanted to bring a similar experience to South Bend. Notre Dame started finding soldiers from local regiments and veterans’ organizations during its final season in the old Joyce Center and the practice carried over to their new home across the parking lot.
The 2,000 extra fans and the improved acoustics in the new arena made that second period ovation all the more rousing. The players found it impossible to ignore and impossible not to join.
“I think it’s great we can take two minutes during our games and honor a specific person each night,” senior winger Nick Larson said. “Some times the coaches are still talking and telling us to do certain things, but you gotta listen and show your respect at the same time.”
At each game Notre Dame recognizes a veteran or active military member during the second period.
Larson organized a jersey auction through the team earlier this year that raised more than $10,000 to help military families get their children involved in hockey. Two years earlier, the team held a similar event to collect money for the Wounded Warrior Project.
Whether it’s due to family members, respect for the Army Ranger who helps train the team in the offseason or just contagious thoughts, the hockey program specifically has developed a strong tie to the military in recent years. Nevala said the timing is no accident.
“I think at the time the notion that we were still in wartime was kind of fading even though we had a lot of people in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said. “It just seemed appropriate. It’s a good lesson for our guys. When they think that they are sacrificing these are people that are really doing that.”
Traditions give a place its personality. They turn houses into homes and sparkling arenas into barns. Compton’s yellow palette of bricks and its gothic architecture match the rest of campus, but inside it’s still chipping away at that fresh paint smell that sets it apart. This second period ovation is a strong start in that department.
“I really do think it’s important,” Admiral Fogarty said. “For Notre Dame, I applaud them. I salute them.”
Here’s hoping that they continue to return the favor.