Blue and Gold Illustrated

December 2019

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 6 of 47 DECEMBER 2019 7 UNDER THE DOME Non-Sellouts Are A Symptom To A Bigger Problem By Todd Burlage The idea that Notre Dame failed to sell out a football game for the first time since 1973 stands as a big deal all by itself, especially with everything the university has done to attract fans through an improved game-day experi- ence at the stadium. Video boards, wider seating, improved concessions and an en- tertaining football team riding an 18-game home winning streak seem like plenty of reasons as to why Notre Dame should never have a problem filling its 77,622 seats six or seven times a year. But it did have a problem selling tickets for both the Navy and Boston College games. And a lack of elite opponents on the home schedule for years to come will undoubtedly bring additional apathy and more empty seats. Notre Dame director of athletics Jack Swarbrick said in a story in The South Bend Tribune that he's not overly concerned with the 273-game streak coming to an end. He believes the anomaly of having three November home games was the primary reason for the sellout streak ending. In actuality, it was a lack of quality home opponents. Notre Dame was at least a 10-point favorite in six of its seven home games this season, and three times it was a 20-plus point favorite. And with Irish schedules finalized out to 2021 and nothing other than the Clemson game in 2020 to get excited about, expect non-sellouts to become more the norm. That's a really big deal, and one that will have to be ad- dressed through better scheduling, not through more concession options or brighter video boards. Empty Seats Not A Surprise Nor A Red Flag By Lou Somogyi The sellout streak of 273 straight games that Notre Dame liked to publicize for decades had an element of fudging to it for quite a while now. Director of athletics Jack Swarbrick admitted himself to The South Bend Tribune that there were "creative" ways to continue the streak, sort of like manipulating a golf score with some mulligans along the way. Let's not forget that until 1997, prior to the expansion, the standard capacity at Notre Dame Stadium was a modest 59,075. Compared to other powerful programs that generally seated at least 80,000 and some beyond 100,000, it was quite small. But as a private school with an enrollment of only about 8,000 students compared to state schools with four, five, six or more times that number, it was quaint and maybe even apropos, much like the charm of powerhouse Duke basketball's Cameron Indoor Stadium that seats only 9,314 (comparable to Notre Dame's 9,149). Notre Dame Stadium expanded to nearly 81,000 before the widening of the seats, among other revisions, reduced it to its present 77,622. Even without the sellout number, I view it (at least for now) as getting about 15,000 more into the arena now than during many of its glory years. Times change, and drawing more than 70,000 in mid- and late-November non-competitive games is still pretty darn good from my vantage point. When the numbers start to dwindle to less than 70,000 in September (even for New Mexico or Bowling Green) or 50,000 by November, then yes, there's a problem festering. If you win — and legitimately compete for titles — they will still come. Point ✦ Counterpoint: IS IT A BIG DEAL NOTRE DAME DIDN'T SELL OUT ITS LAST TWO HOME GAMES THIS SEASON? Looking back just a few short years, Notre Dame junior Matt Hellickson can't believe how quickly his time on campus and his amateur hockey ca- reer are flying by. Five years ago, Hellickson was wrapping up his prep hockey career at Rogers High School in Rog- ers, Minn., before a three-year whirlwind tour took him to stops on the Under-17 and Under-18 U.S. National Teams through the U.S. Hockey National Team Development Program; to Sioux City, Iowa, for a season in the USHL; and then eventually to Notre Dame in 2017. Hellickson — a seventh-round selection by the New Jersey Devils in the 2017 NHL Draft — was just a Notre Dame freshman in 2017, but still became a regular contributor on the 2017-18 Irish team that won the Big Ten regular-season and tournament championships and eventually played in the national championship game. Hellickson skated in all 40 games last season, recording four goals and 12 assists. And now in his third season at Notre Dame, he's leading a group of young Irish defensemen on a team that already has six come-from-behind wins this sea- son en route to an 8-2-2 record through Nov. 27. BGI: Scoring is so difficult in hockey, how do you keep the right mindset when you're trailing in a game? Hellickson: "If we're down one or two goals, we don't really let that affect us on the bench. We still have a really upbeat attitude. "Until that final buzzer goes off, I think we al- ways know in the back of our heads that we have a chance to win." BGI: Once you complete a couple of comeback wins, can that build the team's confidence to do it again? Hellickson: "Oh definitely. We were down 3-2 to Wisconsin [Nov. 16], Cal Burke, our captain was saying, 'Hey, we've been here before, we've done it once, we can do it again.' "And that sort of mentality helps us definitely. We came back and won that game." BGI: What goes into being a good comeback team? Hellickson: "This year's team, based on my expe- riences from previous teams during my freshman and sophomore years, what I think we're really good at is being resilient, we have really good emo- tional control on the bench and I think that is one thing that really helps us be the comeback kids." BGI: You guys are off to a great start. What are your thoughts on how the defense is playing so far this season? Hellickson: "I really like how our D-corps is playing as a whole right now, especially the young guys. I think we move really well as a D-corps. "It's really exciting to see and I'm really look- ing forward to continuing the season with those guys." BGI: Among the young defenseman, anybody stand out so far? Hellickson: "I think [sophomore] Nate Clurman, he's really coming into his own using his body, using his feet, and then the same with [sopho- mores] Charlie Raith and Nick Leivermann. "Both of those guys obviously didn't play too much last year, but this year they've just shown that they have a lot of confidence and they have a lot of poise with the puck. They make a lot of really good plays." — Todd D. Burlage Five Questions With … NOTRE DAME JUNIOR HOCKEY DEFENSEMAN MATT HELLICKSON Hellickson helped the Fighting Irish get off to an 8-2-2 start this season, anchoring the team's defense and contributing five points (two goals and three assists). PHOTO COURTESY FIGHTING IRISH MEDIA JACK SWARBRICK

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