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Winter Classic games never get dull for Blackhawks

A general view of Notre Dame Stadium is seen in the second period of the NHL Winter Classic hockey game between the Boston Bruins and the Chicago Blackhawks, Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2019, in South Bend, Ind. | Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Hundreds of fans gathered in a courtyard to cheer on the Blackhawks as the team paraded into Notre Dame Stadium before their fourth Winter Classic game. Children sat on the shoulders of their parents. Fans pulled out their phones and tried to take photos of the team as it was escorted by the Pipes and Drums of the Chicago Police Department.

The Hawks took the ice Tuesday for their sixth outdoor game in 10 years. Fans and players were as enthusiastic as they were for the Hawks’ first Winter Classic appearance a decade ago on New Year’s Day at Wrigley Field.

“Today was fun,” captain Jonathan Toews said. “This one’s right at the top as far as how special it was.”

But what made this one so special?

It wasn’t the fact that the Hawks played in front of their largest crowd — a sell-out at 76,126 — but rather because they felt a connection with the storied tradition of Notre Dame football.

“You’ve seen the movie ‘Rudy’ and seen the football games here,” said Toews, who took in his first Notre Dame game in 2015 while showing off the Stanley Cup. “I think any time Notre Dame’s on TV, the entire country’s watching. It’s just such a recognizable brand or symbol, I guess, and the Fighting Irish, so for us to come in here and take over their locker room and play a hockey game in their building, it’s an honor to be able to walk around here.”

The Hawks lost 4-2 to the Bruins and fell to 1-5 in outdoor games, but the experience was still worthwhile for the players, especially the younger ones who hadn’t taken part in a Winter Classic.

Defenseman Connor Murphy was buzzing with excitement before the game. As a Dublin, Ohio, native, he had several friends who were die-hard Notre Dame football fans.

“Got here early,” he said. “I did a couple of laps back and forth, and I think I touched the ‘Play Like a Champion Today’ sign about 10 times just because it’s so cool.”

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Forward Dylan Strome said it was surreal to see how full the stadium was even during warmups. He also got goose bumps when Jim Cornelison sang the national anthem.

‘‘The crowd was yelling and cheering just like Chicago fans always do,” Strome said. “And you could barely hear the announcer, but you know exactly what was going on. It was an unbelievable experience. Wish we could’ve gotten the two points, but it’s something I’ll remember.”

Coach Jeremy Colliton encouraged his players to embrace the moment and was happy with how the Hawks performed overall.

“We wanted them to enjoy it,” Colliton said. “They’ve got family here, and this is a special, special event. It’s not going to happen again as far as right here, right now at Notre Dame. . . . I have no complaints with the heart we played with. We competed and just unfortunate that we couldn’t be celebrating a win here. But I thought we played hard.”