Local stars prep for Notre Dame's outdoor puck drop

Sunday's clash with Miami (Ohio) isn't just another game for Notre Dame's men's hockey team. It won't be like any game the Irish have played before.

Sunday's clash with Miami (Ohio) isn't just another game for Notre Dame's men's hockey team.

It won't be like any game the Irish have played before.

"I played some pond hockey when I was a kid, but I've never been a part of anything like this," said Sam Herr of Hinsdale.

Herr was speaking of Sunday's outdoor game at Soldier Field, the first of a college hockey doubleheader that also sees Minnesota face Wisconsin in the afternoon.

The Notre Dame-Miami game will have some local flavor. Herr, Thomas DiPauli (Woodridge) and Robbie Russo (Westmont) play for Notre Dame while Elmhurst's John Doherty is a freshman at Miami.

Despite the uniqueness of the situation, Herr and his Irish teammates are taking it all in stride.

Before the puck drops Sunday, the Irish must travel to Oxford, Ohio, for a Friday night road game against the Redhawks, who sit atop the Central Collegiate Hockey Association standings, three points ahead of Notre Dame. The Irish would love nothing more than a sweep of the games to get back in the CCHA driver's seat.

"It could be a distraction if you let it be, but our team is pretty focused," DiPauli said. "We know what we have to do to come out of it with three points. It's a big game for us."

"Right now our focus is on Miami as a whole," Herr said. "We want to beat them whether it's an outdoor game or not. We have to stay focused. After Friday's game, that's when we'll worry about the outdoor game and what the environment is going to be like."

After Friday's game against Miami, the Irish will arrive in Chicago Saturday and get some practice time on the outdoor ice in preparation for the game.

"It's going to be a lot different," Russo said. "We don't know what to expect Sunday, but we get outside Saturday, and I think that's all we need."

Russo said he's seen a Bears game at Soldier Field before. Herr saw a couple of football games there as a kid. DiPauli has never been there. All are excited for the game.

"I've never played in an outdoor game, so that's going to be a first," DiPauli said. "I'm very, very excited about it. It sounds like it's going to be a lot of fun."

"I'm definitely excited," Russo said. "We have a bunch of guys from Chicago, and we're all definitely excited for it. It's cool to play outside. It's pretty unique."

Herr has been trying to get a feel for outdoor hockey by watching some footage from the NHL Winter Classic series that has been taking place for several years.

"I have no idea what to expect," Herr said. "I keep watching the Winter Classic to try and get an idea of what it's like. The ice might or the weather might not be ideal, but the energy is going to be huge for both teams."