On March 2, the University of Notre Dame hockey team’s class of 2019 will suit up for Senior Night at Compton Family Ice Arena.
It would be easy to get distracted by the moment, but senior Jack Jenkins’ mantra has always been to focus on the job at hand, the “next practice, next game.”
When it is all over, however, Jenkins will have time to reflect on his team’s journey and what it has all meant. For now, his focus is on this weekend’s upcoming games against Penn State. For his pregame ritual Jenkins says, “I’m not a very superstitious guy, to be honest. I kind of just get ready, and whatever I’m feeling that day. When you put that jersey on you just get in that zone. A little bit before the game you’re just loose and having fun. But when that jersey comes on you’re going onto that ice for (puck drop). A lot of intensity and focus comes in. You know you’re going into battle with your teammates which is also a cool feeling.”
Jenkins’ favorite Notre Dame memory so far “has to be those two trips to the Frozen Four, and the way we did it. Both dramatic games. Just because the pure enjoyment from our team, the thrill, the whole experience is just something that you are never going to forget.” Jenkins’ career at Notre Dame has been filled with heart-stopping games on the road to the Frozen Four. As a junior, Jenkins scored the game-winning goal with 31 seconds remaining in the Big Ten semifinal victory over Penn State and had the assist on Jake Evans’ game-winning goal against Michigan that allowed the Irish to advance to the national championship game.
In his senior year, Jenkins was named one of Notre Dame’s alternate captains. He is well aware of the significance of the ‘A’ on his jersey. “It means a lot to wear a letter at any organization, on any team it’s obviously very special. I take a lot of pride in that and can hopefully represent Notre Dame well. Some of the past captains that have had ‘A’s on their jerseys have been guys I’ve looked up to my whole career here and to have one on my chest this season is cool.”
The work ethic and dedication that caused Jenkins to receive that ‘A’ on his jersey are the same qualities that put him on Notre Dame’s radar when he played junior hockey. These values were instilled in him by his father at a young age.
Jenkins’ explains “My dad has shown me the ropes throughout my whole life. He played college football at Indiana and he knew what it takes to play at a high level and play college sports. I kinda always looked up to him on how to work and how to prepare to play college. I am inspired by what he does every day. I always dreamed about playing college hockey, I remember him saying, ‘If you want to take this seriously you are going to have to be dedicated and put in more work than other people.’ I kind of took that to heart.”
Jenkins knew by middle school that he wanted to pursue college hockey.
“I realized that hockey was the sport for me because it’s a combination of everything, skill and craftiness to it, but it’s also edgy and physical. I think the combination of both is something really special and unique. Also, the game is played at such a high speed. I think that is pretty unique in all sports today. In middle school I knew it was the sport for me because it was either that or baseball, but baseball was too slow paced for me. I kinda always knew hockey was the sport for me, but that was when I really started taking it to another level.”
Jenkins had first fallen in love with hockey and ice skating as a toddler. “Just skating, it’s different and unique. It’s not like all the other sports where you’re running and on feet. The thrill of skating got me going from a very young age. I remember skating with my dad when I was three years old — just pure joy. Just out there as a little kid, had no idea what I was doing, he was just holding my hand at first. I remember the first time I skated by myself it was just something special and from that moment on, (I) fell in love with it.”
Growing up in Illinois, Jenkins played in tournaments held at Compton Family Ice Arena. Jenkins recalls “being in awe of everything on campus and the rink. I remember me and my dad would walk around the campus before my games and be like, ‘Wow, this is a pretty special place and you understand why the reputation is so high.’ I was sixteen years old, the new building was brand new. We got to watch a Notre Dame hockey game at the new (arena) and I remember looking around like, ‘Wow, this is pretty special. If I ever had the opportunity to play here I would definitely take it.”
When Notre Dame reached out to recruit Jenkins, he did not take much convincing because of his prior experience on campus. He had actually been hoping that they would make an offer. Despite being familiar with Notre Dame and Compton Family Ice Arena, the experience of being on the ice representing Notre Dame was still remarkable to Jenkins as a freshman.
From Jenkins’ freshman year, one of the games that stands out the most “was (against) Boston University when Jim Cornelison sang the national anthem.” I remember looking around the stadium and it was just packed from top to bottom.
Realizing wow, this is pretty special. Lot of times when you’re playing you don’t take those moments in because you’re just so focused. That was one moment I took a step back and was like ‘Wow, this is pretty cool.’ Obviously, from Chicago I watch a lot of Blackhawks games. I always hear my dad saying he’s the best national anthem singer out there. He’s not wrong, I’ve also seen him live at the United Center and how crazy that place gets. When I heard he was coming to Notre Dame to sing the national anthem I was like, ‘Alright, this is pretty cool to be on the ice with him and live on the ice.’ It definitely did not disappoint. The fans caught on, probably because a lot of them are from Chicago. The building was just erupting. It was definitely pretty cool.”
It is fitting than that as things come full circle that Jim Cornelison will be singing the national anthem before Jenkins’ Senior Night game. Jenkins focus may be on the game, but it will also be on his experience at Notre Dame.
“The tradition of this place brings people together, which is what makes it so special.”