Putting on a Clinic
Pre-Med Goaltender Pearce Adds to Notre Dame Tradition
by Avash Kalra/Staff Writer
Let's face it — South Bend, Indiana is a football town. And for the University of Notre Dame, a school rich in both academics and athletic tradition, hockey has historically been merely an afterthought.
But following a woeful 5-27-6 season in 2004-05, the Irish hockey program began a change in direction by hiring legendary coach Jeff Jackson, a two-time national championship winner at Lake Superior State in the early '90s. And Jackson's first season at Notre Dame was also the first for young goaltender Jordan Pearce — an Anchorage, Alaska native who was determined to enhance the already illustrious tradition of Notre Dame athletics.
"I felt the program, before I came here, was kind of underachieving," said Pearce. "There's such a rich tradition of Notre Dame, and I thought the hockey program had the potential to be a great, national powerhouse. I felt it was a great opportunity to start a tradition and be a part of something new and exciting."
Still, for two years, Pearce mostly warmed the bench, waiting for his opportunity. The incumbent was David Brown, the 2007 CCHA Player of the Year and Hobey Baker Award finalist. And although Pearce managed a 6-5-0 record in limited action during his freshman and sophomore campaigns, most of the time, he just watched Brown.
And he learned.
Said Pearce, "It's a big step going from juniors to college, and you have to put in your time, put in your work in order to get better. Your time will come, and when it does come, you have to make the best of it. Watching [Brown] play, I really admired how consistent he was. Every night, he was on top of his game and gave the guys a really good chance to win. That really impressed me. I really wanted to improve on my own consistency, and watching him, he was a great role model."
Make no mistake, however. Despite playing in only 12 games over two years, Pearce was plenty busy. Hoping to pursue a career as a physician, Pearce began the strenuous road of being a "pre-med" — not an easy task for any young college student, yet alone someone whose time commitments include playing a Division I sport.
"My ultimate dream is to become a doctor and practice, but as a hockey player, you always have that dream of playing professionally," explained Pearce. "So I decided that I would pursue both, and then after I graduate, I'll see which way I go. As far as academics, I feel it's manageable, but you really have to be willing and dedicated to it. When guys are going to watch a movie or eating out after practice, you have to know that you have to go study and do homework. I feel that, once you manage your time correctly, and if you make sacrifices here or there, it's definitely doable.
"And if you enjoy it, like I do, and if it's something you have passion for, it's something that's easily done."
And a lesson that Pearce has learned from studying biology, physics, and chemistry — as he puts it, "You'd be surprised where you can end up in life if you just work hard" — has translated to his career as a hockey player. This season, he has played 85 percent of his team's minutes between the pipes, and in 26 games, has a record of 16-8-1 with a goals-against average of 1.93 and a save percentage of .915.
Said Pearce, "I've learned how to be dedicated and hard-working. If you work hard, you'll be rewarded. You have to set your goals high to push yourself, to motivate yourself."
Indeed, motivation is key. Entering this season, the Irish were clearly motivated by how the last one ended — a one-goal loss to Michigan State with a trip to the Frozen Four on the line. Considering Notre Dame won only five games two season earlier, a possible Frozen Four berth was quite a leap forward for the program.
But, now, things have changed.
"After losing that game and looking back in retrospect over the summer, everyone really realized how close we were and that we were right there and just happened to fall short," said Pearce. "That potential of being the national champions was no longer an unachievable dream. I think it became more of a reality, a goal, for us, something to really strive for. With that in the back of our minds, it motivated us and a lot of our returning players over the summer — you know, that we were that close to being in the Frozen Four."
This season, the Irish have already reached the 20-win plateau and are looking to return to the NCAA tournament to complete any unfinished business from last year. And since the Notre Dame football team managed only a 3-9 record this past season, perhaps it's time for the hockey program to steal the spotlight.
"I feel the students love cheering for our sports," said Pearce. "But for hockey, over the years, there wasn't much to come and cheer about, and over the last two years, I feel we've built up a reputation, especially at home. People come here expecting us to win, and they expect us to have a good, exciting game. We've really been working on building a fanbase here, getting people excited about Notre Dame hockey."
Another reason to keep an eye on Pearce and Notre Dame this season is that, to achieve success, they will have to go through three of the top teams in the nation — the defending champion Michigan State Spartans, as well as the top-two ranked teams in the country in Miami and Michigan. With the CCHA as arguably the premier conference in college hockey this season, the Irish will have their work cut out for them, and Pearce knows that he and his teammates will have to play with surgical precision for the rest of the year.
Said the junior netminder, "We've been really focused just on the present. You can't look at the past, look at your numbers, or records. I feel like, especially in our league, if you look forward to your Michigan games, your Michigan State games, and if you overlook your games against Bowling Green or Ferris, or some of the other teams, then those teams might come and bite you and take some points from you. I think, to be consistent and to have a great season, you have to approach every game as it is. No matter who you play, you have to play like that game is your most important game."
And now, perhaps when Pearce and the Fighting Irish are done, South Bend could be a hockey town, too.