SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Make no mistake about it: Any green Torey Krug wears the next two days will be an homage to Michigan State. The Bruins defenseman is a Spartan, through and through.
But there was a time when a young Krug, raised on Notre Dame football lore, wanted nothing more than to strap up the gold helmet and play hockey for the Fighting Irish.
“I had a Notre Dame Irish hat growing up. It was off-white with a green shamrock. I just remember always having that one on,” Krug said in the B’s locker room at Notre Dame Stadium, where they will face the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday in the Winter Classic.
Krug was not at the top of college recruiting lists when he was a junior playing for the Indiana Ice. And as he remembers it, Notre Dame already had their puck-moving defenseman lined up in Cam Fowler, the future Anaheim first-round pick who never played a minute in college.
Krug chose to play in East Lansing, but he holds no grudge against Notre Dame.
“It was a storied program that I grew up watching and actually wanted to be a part of one day,” Krug said. “I thought that would be pretty cool. That’s not the way the cards fell. It was a dream to play at Michigan State, but (Notre Dame) is a school that I have a lot of respect, personally, for and a place I wanted to be at one point. It’s a pretty cool place.”
The B’s arrived in South Bend early Sunday morning after their victory in Buffalo on Saturday night. A few, like Krug, kicked around campus a bit to check out the sights. Though he’s been here before for games, Krug finally had a chance to explore the iconic landmarks like the Thoeodore Hesburgh Library, famous for its “Touchdown Jesus” mural on the side of the building.
Meanwhile, some of the non-American players’ ties to Notre Dame are on the superficial side.
“Just saw Rudy. Hell of a movie. That’s really the only connection I have to this place. But loved the flick and, yeah, go Rudy,” Brad Marchand said.
Coach Bruce Cassidy does have a fond memory of the campus, though it was a bit tangential. He spent a couple of days here as a member of Mike Keenan’s Chicago Blackhawks team about 30 years ago to prepare for an exhibition against Russian national team, working out at the Joyce Center.
“They took us down here for two days. It was like a mini-training camp. Worked our ass off for two days, went out that night as a team and went back (to Chicago) and beat them about 6-0,” Cassidy recalled.
He was duly impressed by the relatively new hockey digs (2011) at the Compton Family Ice Arena as opposed to the basketball-centric Joyce Center.
“I’ll have to put that on (son) Cole’s list when he’s ready to play college hockey,” Cassidy said.
Sean Kuraly grew up in Columbus, Ohio, and was imbued with all things Buckeyes, but the special place this venue holds in American sports is not lost on him.
“I’m an Ohio State football fan, but I’ve obviously seen ‘Rudy’ and I know the tradition they’ve got here. I waked around campus today and saw some of (the buildings),” Kuraly said. “You just know it’s a prestigious institution and lot of good alumni that have come through here.”
And while Krug never got to suit up for the Irish, he will be playing in the first outdoor hockey game ever at Notre Dame Stadium, which means something to him.
“It’s great,” Krug said. “It’s rare that you get to play in games like that. This is a special venue and a special occasion for sure. You just want to soak it all in and hopefully be on the winning side of things.”