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Notre Dame Fighting Irish Hockey: It All Starts Out on the Pond

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A love affair with (Notre Dame) hockey ...

Notre Dame vs. Michigan Hockey outside at Notre Dame stadium.
Photo by Mike Miller

After watching two hockey games last week outside at Notre Dame stadium (was that not amazing? I mean how many little boys grew up playing hockey on their local ponds, dreaming of playing hockey in the NHL, and then those same grown up little boys were playing NHL hockey outside, in the middle of Notre Dame stadium? Simply amazing.), I started to think about my own love for (Notre Dame) hockey, and how it all began.

Everyone knows that I love football. Especially Notre Dame football. But you may not know that I love hockey as well. There are three sports, well ... three professional sports ... that I love, and they include football, hockey, and baseball.

Growing up in Los Angeles, I was not a huge hockey fan. One of my high school friends, Leslie, her family had season tickets to the L.A. Kings, and I learned a lot from her. Including, but not limited to: DO NOT turn around and talk to Gretzky’s wife DURING the game ... as when she was doing that she got hit in the back of the head with a puck and had to be rushed to the emergency room for stitches.

So when I got to Notre Dame for my freshman year, I already had some knowledge of hockey, and then I met Mike Russo. He was one of the freshmen goalies for the ND Hockey team, and had played hockey in high school in St. Louis at Christian Brothers College High School (CBC). He always wore his high school letterman jacket around campus, and maybe that’s what caught my eye, that purple jacket; but I soon rearranged my walking paths so that I would run into him on my way to and from class. We chatted a lot, running into each other like that, freshman year, but I never did get up the nerve to ask him out. And that year my friends and I really didn’t go to many hockey games. It was enough of a challenge just getting used to being so far away from home, and trying to master classes; and so not a whole lot of extracurricular activities happened freshman year.

At the end of the summer after freshman year in college, my parents told me that we were moving from Los Angeles to St. Louis. St. Louis? What? I was crushed. I had four days to say goodbye to my friends before I headed back to college and I could not believe that my parents were doing this to me. (Typical 18 year old reaction, right?)

And then everything gets put into perspective.

When I got back to campus that first day of sophomore year, I picked up a copy of the first “Observer” of the school year ... the school newspaper. And there it was on the front page. Freshman Mike Russo dies.

I think all of the blood rushed out of my face. My friends had tried to get to me before I got a paper, but they didn’t make it. Boy, didn’t I feel stupid that I never asked him out ... that I was too shy to take the first step. Talk about a missed opportunity. I was so upset, I could not even go to the memorial that the school had for him. I was absolutely devastated. I really had no intention of EVER going to a hockey game ever again. All it did was remind me of him.

Mike Russo, teammate Eric Gregoire, and roommate Lance Cochran.
Photo courtesy of Eric Gregoire

But then, life has a way of taking care of things. Flash forward to my junior year. My roommate got engaged in November and decided to move off campus with her fiance, which left me needing a roommate. So the rector of our dorm gave me a list of all of the girls from our dorm who were in London for the fall semester and asked me if I knew any of them. I did recognize this one girl (Cara), and I knew we had a friend in common ... Carl, who was (you guessed it) a hockey player ... so I figured she would be okay. And so I picked Cara.

I ran into Carl at the dining hall and told him that Cara and I were going to be roommates the next semester, and his reaction was less than positive. He said ... “Uh, Cara? Really? Oh my.” And I said, “What do you mean?” He replied, “Well, you are the eternally HAPPY person, and she is the eternally CRABBY person!”

And thus started a wonderful friendship between Cara and I. For the record, she and I were perfect roommates. We were the perfect mix of happy and crabby, and we had a wonderful time that semester! In fact, to this day, we are still the best of friends, she was in my wedding, and she is Offspring #2’s God Mother. Okay, back to the story.

Living with Cara that semester, she and Carl got me back to going to hockey games again. And then, during my senior year, my Dad let me bring his VERY nice camera, with a telephoto lens, to school with me and I started taking pictures at sporting events. First at football games ... and then at hockey games. I started making copies and enlarging some of good pictures to give to the players, and word got back to the hockey coach of how good my pics were, and I got invited to ride on the team bus with the team and be the team photographer!

Well, shy me passed on that offer ... but I did road trip to as many games as I could and took TONS of pics.

Watching the game through my camera developed my love for the game, and I have loved it ever since. That, and getting to know quite a few of the guys through my pictures, and getting to know the “characters” that hockey players are ... it was a good thing!

And then, after I graduated from Notre Dame, I got a job doing sales for a local professional soccer team in St. Louis. The best part of that job was two-fold. First, the soccer team played in The Arena, where the St. Louis Blues played, and our offices opened out onto the top row of the arena, so I cannot tell you how many hockey games we got to watch from up there. (shhhh) And secondly, from hanging out with the soccer players at the drinking establishments near The Arena, we got to meet and get to know a ton of the Blues players ... Hull, Shanahan, CuJo, Jeff Brown ... the list goes on. It was truly a great opportunity (the job that is) and a very fun time in my life.

I still think of Mike every time I go to a hockey game. I probably always will. And though I don’t have as much time as I used to go to, or even watch hockey games, I still thoroughly enjoy it every chance I get.

I originally posted this story back in 2011 on my tiny little blog, Bridget McGuire’s Filling Station, and a funny thing happened. About 18 months after I posted the story I got notified that a new comment had been posted on my blog, and I found this:

Bridget,

I married Mike Russo’s sister, Mary Lynn. We just read this post and were very touched by it.

Mike was a special guy.

Duane Trower

Crazy, right? I never thought my story on my tiny little blog, all of these years later, would reach his family. But it absolutely did. I’m always taken aback at the people I have met through the internet and through my writing. It truly has been a blessing, and it is an adventure every day.

There’s one more thing I’d like add. One of my hockey friends was at Notre Dame this past week for both of the games, and the hockey reunion that was held on Friday, and was walking through the LaFortune Student Center when he saw a plaque on the wall that read as follows. “The Mike Russo Spirit Award: The Mike Russo Spirit Award honors and outstanding undergraduate student who exemplifies the qualities for which Mike Russo was known, including service, personal character, and those who strive to bring about the best in themselves and others.” There have been four winners so far. It would seem as though I wasn’t the only person who was touched my Mike Russo’s magnetic personality.

The Mike Russo Spirit Award
Photo courtesy of Mark O’Sullivan

So there’s the roundabout story of my love for hockey! I have many more hockey stories about my friends on the hockey team ... but some of those *wink* will have to remain unsaid!

Do you love hockey, too? Who got you into hockey? Share your story with me in the comments below. Oh, and in volume III of the Echoes From Notre Dame book series, (due out in the fall of 2019), there will be two Notre Dame Hockey players. And oh are their stories good.

Cheers & GO IRISH!