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Sunday, April 14, 2024
The Observer

Landon Slaggert talks Irish hockey, series with Michigan

To say that Notre Dame hockey has been a big part of Landon Slaggert’s life would be an understatement.

After all, the junior forward’s relationship with the team essentially began at birth.   

“My dad’s been a coach, I think this is his 30th season now? Kind of crazy how time flies by,” Slaggert said after practice Wednesday. “Growing up around the rink, these guys, they were my heroes.”  

Indeed, Slaggert’s father Andy (himself a Notre Dame hockey alumnus, class of 1989) is in his 30th year on the Irish coaching staff. As the program’s lead recruiter, he has played a large part in building the recent success of Irish hockey. He also played a significant role in recruiting his sons — all three of them — to Notre Dame.

Graham Slaggert — the eldest of the three brothers — graduated from Notre Dame last year after four years with the team. Two of those seasons, he played with Landon by his side. Graham is currently playing with the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League. 

The youngest of the trio, Carter, is a signee playing with the USA National Team Development Program. Carter is expected to be a freshman on the team next year. 

“It’s just a special, unique bond. Not many people can say they [have] played with their brother but also been coached by their dad,” said Slaggert. “It’s definitely a unique situation, but something that I’ll cherish for the rest of my life.”

In his third year with the team, things have not necessarily been easy for Slaggert. After notching 12 goals and 26 points last season, he struggled to find the back of the net early this year. Slaggert went without a goal until Nov. 23, two months into the season.

“Sometimes it just doesn’t fall for you, and you kind of keep your mindset right, keep a level head, so that’s what I try to do,” Slaggert said. “Luckily, right now I kind of got my mojo back and am getting some points.”

Yes, Slaggert does have his mojo back. He has four goals in his last four games and scored two in a crucial win over Ohio State two weeks ago. Slaggert’s uptick in production could not have come at a better time for Notre Dame, amid the race for home ice in the Big Ten tournament and an at-large bid to the looming NCAA tournament.

“It was a long time comin’ for sure, and I had to battle that mentally and stay positive through it all,” Slaggert said. He also noted that he is playing with more freedom and confidence lately, as a result.  

But for Slaggert, there will always be more to Notre Dame hockey than goals and assists. Growing up around the program, Slaggert has not only a deep connection, but also a deep memory.

Perhaps no opponent brings those memories out quite like Michigan, who the Irish will meet in their final two games of the regular season this weekend.

“It’s a big rivalry. They go way back to the CCHA days, and that’s where I really kind of found a love for Notre Dame hockey, and a love for the game,” Slaggert said.

The Irish and Wolverines have played some unforgettable games since their first meeting in 1923. Since the turn of the century, the Irish have topped Michigan in two Frozen Four semifinals and three CCHA championship games.

“I think the 2008 [game], the semifinal Frozen Four game — that one will definitely be burned in my memory and one of my favorites of all time,” Slaggert said. “I remember it was over in Denver, Colorado, at the Pepsi Center. It was a late game, I think I was falling asleep on my mom’s lap as it was going into overtime. It was a late night.”

In that game, Notre Dame’s Calle Ridderwall scored the overtime winner to send the Irish to the national championship. 

“That was their first big win, and it was just awesome,” Slaggert remembered. 

The rivalry in recent seasons has been no less entertaining than that near-midnight marathon game 15 years ago. Despite Michigan’s reputation for pumping out high-level NHL talent (the Wolverines had the most former players on opening day NHL rosters of any college team in the country this year), Notre Dame has been a thorn in their side.

“Guys tend to get up for the Michigan game, it’s a big rivalry,” Slaggert said. “You always want to beat those guys.”

Nowhere does this seem to be more true than on Michigan’s home ice at Yost Ice Arena. The Irish have won eight of their last 11 at Yost and have not lost there in the regular season since Nov. 10, 2018. 

Yost is especially famed for its raucous crowds, yet Slaggert is unphased. He hinted that his team might even be looking forward to playing there.

“We like to play the villain,” he said.

The rivalry renews in climactic fashion Friday. Puck drop is slated for 7 p.m, and the game will be streamed on B1G+. The series finale can be seen on the Big Ten Network at 8 p.m. Saturday.