SOUTH BEND, Indiana -- Notre Dame Stadium will be among the biggest stars of the 2019 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, sharing the stage with Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins and Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks.
Anyone who has spent time watching -- or playing -- football in the iconic home of the University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish knows what awaits the players, coaches and thousands of fans who will jam into the stadium for the 11th edition of the NHL's New Year's Day showcase (1 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVA Sports).
Bruins defenseman Torey Krug grew up in Livonia, Michigan and went to Michigan State University. He said Notre Dame was a big part of his childhood, so much so he admits to harboring dreams of playing his college hockey there.
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"This is one of the mecca of sports, right?" Krug said Sunday after the Bruins practiced indoors at Compton Family Ice Arena on the Notre Dame campus. "I've always said playing outdoors is a really cool thing. That part is never going to change. It's the breeze, skating into the wind, wearing the eye black. But, what is really special is the special venues we play in.
"This is a special place. You feel the history when you walk out of the tunnel, the old-school feeling with the bench (seating) around the stadium, all the great football games that have been played here, the amazing teams, the amazing talents that have played here. It's really cool."
It's even cooler than Krug can imagine, say those who have experienced the magic of Notre Dame Stadium in person.
"The grounds of Notre Dame and (the stadium) being the centerpiece of the campus is one of the things that makes it a really cool place to enjoy a game," said New Jersey Devils forward Kyle Palmieri, who played at Notre Dame during the 2009-10 season. "Obviously, there is such a big tradition there that everybody kind of drops everything for a football Saturday. I think the way it is set up and how everybody is excited for it, it's going to be an incredible atmosphere that those guys will play in.
"My first time visiting there, it was impossible not to fall in love with the place. It's one of those things that I noticed right off the bat was how special it feels to be on that campus."
Video: 2019 Winter Classic at Notre Dame Stadium time-lapse
Neither the Blackhawks nor Bruins have any players on their roster who played at Notre Dame, but there are former Fighting Irish players scattered throughout the NHL who can attest to the uniqueness of an event here.
In addition to Palmieri, Anders Lee of the New York Islanders, Ian Cole of the Colorado Avalanche, Vinnie Hinostroza of the Arizona Coyotes, Bryan Rust, Riley Sheahan of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Cal Petersen of the Los Angeles Kings are among those who played hockey at Notre Dame.
Each has been a part of creating the indescribable atmosphere that awaits the players when they walk out of the tunnel onto the field.
"You step on the campus and it feels like a special place. Then, you step into the football stadium, oh man!" said Lee, who played hockey for Notre Dame from 2010 to 2012.
The Winter Classic is the first non-football sporting event in the stadium's history.
"It always was, and still is, that sacred spot, that football field, everything that Notre Dame stands for, all that tradition," says Lee.
Lee admits he is jealous the Islanders are not taking part, but believes the Blackhawks and Bruins, two Original Six teams, are perfect to break the stadium's nine-decade football-only edict, which was handed down by Knute Rockne, who designed the stadium built in 1930. It was renovated in 1997.
It is the same stadium that has played a starring role in movies like "Knute Rockne, All-American" in 1940 and "Rudy", the 1993 film about Daniel "Rudy" Ruettiger, a walk-on who dressed for the final game of his college football career.
Asked what he knows about Notre Dame, Bruins forward Brad Marchand said, "Just from 'Rudy;' it's a [heck] of a movie. That's the only connection I have to this place. Love the flick, so go Rudy."
How strong is the allure of the stadium? Notre Dame hockey coach Jeff Jackson uses it as an advantage when recruiting players for his program.
"It's just that aura about it. for me, its special to walk down that tunnel onto the football field," Jackson says. "When we take recruits down there, we go out onto the field and the marching band comes out and it's the overall feel of what goes on there is just a reflection of some of the history and tradition of the program."
Often it works like a charm. Lee was a football player in high school who harbored dreams of playing the sport in college before deciding to focus on hockey.
When he visited Notre Dame, he was walked down the tunnel and onto the football field. It proved to be the final touch that sealed is commitment to the university.
"They brought me right down on the field for warmups for the football game as part of the visit," said Lee, who had 41 goals and 78 points in his two seasons at Notre Dame. "It had nothing to do with hockey, but it made it pretty easy to say, 'I like this place,' even before we got to the hockey rink."