Irish In The Pros: Nearly 30 Former Notre Dame Athletes Are In Action As Professional Sports Return
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Irish In The Pros: The Return Of American Professional Sports

When it comes to the fall return of college football, no sport likely carrier more weight than the NFL.

While this tidbit comes as no surprise, it is being used as a reason why college football schedules should be pushed back until later in the fall—a decision that would certainly have the full support of Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick.

It took some negotiating between the NFL and the players but, as of now, teams are set to begin Training Camp beginning on July 28.

In roughly that same span of time (from July 23 and Aug. 1), four different American professional leagues are scheduled to return to official game action.

That means the MLB, NBA, WNBA and NHL will also act as a barometer for the return of college athletics and protocols that are put in place.

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Former Notre Dame football and baseball player Jeff Samardzija (Associated Press)

While your watching said sports leagues and speculating on the return of college football, you can also keep tabs on former Notre Dame athletes playing in each of the four mentioned professional sports leagues.

To varying degrees, Fighting Irish alumni will be represented in each league, which should give fans longing for an escape from the COVID-19 pandemic a chance to momentarily lose themselves in the world of sports once again.

The NHL should have the most Notre Dame alumni in action with 14 having played for teams during the 2019-20 season that are still in the playoff hunt, followed by the nine players in the WNBA, four in the MLB and two in the NBA.

MLB

The typical 162-games MLB schedule was set to begin on March 26 before Opening Day was pushed back indefinitely. After months of negotiation between the players and owners, a revised 60-game schedule was finally agreed upon for all 30 teams.

The new season was scheduled to open on July 23 and seven former Notre Dame players were invited to MLB Summer Camps, but it appears only four are actually on a 25-man roster.

Additionally, Fighting Irish alum Craig Counsell and former head baseball coach Pat Murphy are the manager and bench coach for the Milwaukee Brewers.

One former Notre Dame baseball player of note who will not be playing this season is Baltimore Orioles first baseman Trey Mancini III, who is on the 60-Day Disabled Listed as he endures ongoing chemotherapy to treat stage three colon cancer.

Former Notre Dame right-handed pitcher Brandon Bielak was competing to one of the final roster spots with the Houston Astros, but it appears he did not make it past the final cut.

Lastly, catcher Joe Hudson is was added to the Seattle Mariners' 40-man roster on Thursday, July 23.


Notre Dame Alums in the MLB:

• Cavan Biggio (Played at Notre Dame from 2014-16), 2B - Toronto Blue Jays

• David Phelps (2006-08), RHP - Milwaukee Brewers

• AJ Pollock (2007-09), OF - Los Angeles Dodgers

• Jeff Samardzija (2003-06), RHP - San Francisco Giants


NHL

16 different former Notre Dame Hockey players appeared in the NHL this season, but at least a few of those players won't have the option of playing when the season resumes.

The National Hockey League officially returns to action on Aug. 1 with 24 playoff teams playing in one of the two host cities: Edmonton (Western Conference) and Toronto (Eastern Conference).

It will actually start with the Stanley Cup Qualifier By Series, which will include the bottom eight team in each conference, seeded accordingly for a five games series. The top four teams in each conference received a bye. The actual 16-team playoffs will then begin on Aug. 11, followed by the second rounds on Aug. 25, the Conference Finals on Sept. 8 and the Stanley Cup Finals tentatively scheduled for Sept. 22.

Seven teams were left home due to their regular season records, which leaves two Notre Dame alums out of the NHL's return: Cal Petersen of the Los Angeles Kings and Kyle Palmieri of the New Jersey Devils. This still leaves 14 Notre Dame alumni who were on one of the remaining 24 playoff teams this past season.


Notre Dame Alums on NHL Rosters This Past Season:

• Ander Bjork (2014-17), LW - Boston Bruins

• Ian Cole (2007-10), D - Colorado Avalanche

• Thomas Di Pauli (2012-16), W - Pittsburgh Penguins

• Jake Evans (2014-18), C - Montreal Canadians

• Steven Fogarty (2012-16), C - New York Rangers

• Dennis Gilbert (2015-18), D - Chicago Blackhawks

• Jordan Gross (2014-18), D - Arizona Coyotes

• Vinnie Hinostroza (2013-15), C - Arizona Coyotes

• Stephen Johns (2010-14), D - Dallas Stars

• Anders Lee (2010-13), C - New York Islanders

• Andrew Peeke (2016-19), D - Columbus Blue Jackets

• Bryan Rust (2010-14), RW - Pittsburgh Penguins

• Riley Sheahan (2009-12), C - Edmonton Oilers

• T.J. Tynan (2010-14) - Colorado Avalanche


WNBA

The WNBA began its shortened 22-game regular season on Saturday, July 25. This will be followed by a typical playoff format that is expected to finish in October.

All 12 teams are competing in the league’s own version of a bumble at IMG Academy in Bradenton, FLA (similar to the NBA's at Disney world).

On the first day of the season, Notre Dame alum Skylar Diggins-Smith was named the "Top Performer" for the Pheonix Mercury (per ESPN) after scoring 14 points and dishing out six assists in her team's 99-76 loss to the Los Angeles Sparks.

Nine total Notre Dame alums are expected to play this season, an impressive feat given the limited number of teams in the WNBA.

This does not include Fighting Irish alum Jessica Shepard. She is still with the Minnesota Lynx but is rehabbing a tear in the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee—an injury that occurred early in the 2019 season WNBA. Thus the Lynx put her on the full-season suspended list.

Additionally, former Notre Dame Men’s Basketball player Bill Laimbeer is the head coach of the Las Vegas Aces, where he coaches three fellow alums in Lindsay Allen, Jewell Lloyd and Kayla McBride.


Notre Dame Alums in the WNBA:

• Natalie Achonwa (2010-14), PF - Indiana Fever

• Arike Ogunbowale (2015-19), SG - Dallas Wings

• Lindsay Allen (2013–17), PG - Las Vegas Aces

• Skylar Diggins-Smith (2009–13), PG - Phoenix Mercury

• Jewell Lloyd (2012–15), PG - Seattle Storm

• Marina Mabrey (2015-19), SG - Dallas Wings

• Kayla McBride (2010–14), SG - Las Vegas Aces

• Brianna Turner (2014-19), PF - Phoenix Mercury

• Jackie Young (2016-19), SG - Las Vegas Aces


NBA

Like the NHL, the NBA is resuming a regulars season that came to an abrupt halt in mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Over the last several weeks, several teams entered what is being described as “the bubble,” which is a well-guarded portion of Disney World in Orlando, FLA., equipped with three hotels and practice courts.

In order to keep the bubble COVID-19 free, the NBA is being very strict about who it allows in Disney World, testing every player prior to their arrival. Unfortunately, former Notre Dame forward Pat Connaughton received a positive diagnosis and was unable to join his team when they first arrived in Orlando.

The good news is Connaughton appears to be in the clear and the Milwaukee Bucks reported on social media that he has arrived, wearing a Notre Dame face mask. He will now need to quarantine in Orlando for a period of 48 hours while he likely undergoes additional testing.

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To start the season, no other Notre Dame players were on an NBA roster, but with the league's post-pandemic return, players are allowed to opt-out of the bubble without losing pay. This made room for recent Irish alum Jerian Grant to be signed by his hometown Washington Wizards (the team that drafted him in 2015 before trading him to the New York Knicks).

“I’ve been around the Wizards, been around this area my entire life,” Grant told WashingtonWizards.com. “Being a fan, having my dad play for them, being a ball boy, seeing all those players come through. Juwan Howard, Rod Strickland, Chris Webber – those guys are people I looked up to, people I wanted to be like. To finally be able to put on that jersey means a lot.”

In total, 22 NBA teams were invited to the bubble, with two former Notre Dame Men’s Basketball players on rosters.


Notre Dame Alums in the NBA:

• Pat Connaughton (2011-15), SG - Milwaukee Bucks

• Jerian Grant (2011-15), SG - Washington Wizards

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