Who: No. 10 Notre Dame (18-7-7) vs. No. 9 Boston University (18-9-5)
When: 7:35 p.m. tonight; 7:05 p.m. Saturday
Where: Compton Family Ice Arena; South Bend, Ind. (5,022)
Radio: 99.9 FM (WHFB)
TV: NBC Sports Network (both nights)
One point this weekend will net the Notre Dame hockey team one of its preseason goals.
Naturally, the tenth-ranked Irish are out for more when No. 9 Boston University rolls into town for the final two games of the regular season. But one point from the four available in this series will clinch a bye through the first round of the Hockey East playoffs.
Since joining the league, Notre Dame has yet to finish fourth or better and secure a first round bye. Last season it finished fifth. The year before, eighth.
“It’s huge,” winger Thomas DiPauli said. “You have easier opponents to play and that bye weekend, the season is kinda long, so it gives guys a chance to rest and get their minds right for a tough postseason. But we’re not really focused on that right now. We’re focused on really the first 10 minutes of Friday night’s game.”
How might snagging the bye impact the ensuing weeks? Consider some recent program history.
Notre Dame secured a first round bye in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs five times under current head coach Jeff Jackson. Every one of those teams made it at least to the semifinals. Three times they won the next four games to capture a tournament championship.
Getting a week off to recuperate and prepare isn’t without its drawbacks — and not every team with a bye will go on to major postseason glory — but clearly it’s preferred.
Last season the Irish endured an exhausting three-game series with Massachusetts in the first round of the league playoffs. It included a five-overtime loss in the opener before wins in the next two games to advance.
“The week off is sometimes dangerous because you’re a little rusty on that Friday night game back,” Jackson said. “You’ve really gotta be smart in how you prepare. But it’s invaluable. Last year we played, what? Nine periods of hockey in two days? You avoid that. You avoid the risk of injury and you avoid getting beat. There’s a benefit rest-wise but it’s also about the competitive part of it too. You’re not playing, so that means you’re not getting knocked.”
As it stands, five teams are vying for the top four spots over the final two games.
Boston College sits atop the standings with 33 points. Providence is in second with 31 with Notre Dame one point behind in third. Boston University and Massachusetts-Lowell are tied with 26 points apiece.
Providence faces last place Massachusetts this weekend while Boston College has a home-and-home series with Lowell.
Theoretically, Notre Dame and Providence can still chase down Boston College for the regular season title. Boston University and Lowell can finish with no more than 30 points.
However it shakes out, there’s a gauntlet ahead.
“Even if you’re fortunate enough to get the bye it’s not gonna be easy in the second round,” Jackson said. “If you finish third you’re probably gonna play a team like Northeastern, who’s the hottest team in the country. If you finish fourth, you probably play BU again or Lowell, potentially. If we’re able to finish second, you’re still playing of Vermont or UNH’s caliber. You’re still playing good team. Regardless of having the bye, you still have a tough series in the second round unless you finish in first maybe.”
Senior Night set for Saturday
Notre Dame will honor its six-man senior class Saturday during festivities before puck drop.
Captain Steven Fogarty represents the core of a group that includes DiPauli, Mario Lucia, Andy Ryan, Sam Herr, Mario Lucia and Nick Stasack. Fogarty captained the Irish last season as well. His fellow seniors, minus Stasack, a walk-on goaltender, joined as alternates this season.
“Obviously, it was a huge honor to be a captain at any level,” Fogarty said. “To do it twice at such a prestigious place has been really cool for me. It’s been a learning experience, for sure. I thought I learned a lot last year. Hopefully, I improved this year. With that being said, I think us five captains have really worked well together. We’re extremely close. We’ve been close since freshman year. I think we complement each other well as leaders. It’s been a pretty special ride the last two years. We’ve still got a job to finish.”
Fogarty is the latest in a long line of captains for Notre Dame from Edina, Minn., a Minneapolis suburb. Anders Lee, Ryan Thang and Dan Carlson all hailed from Edina.
“Minnesota kids are the heart and soul kids,” Jackson said. “There’s usually not really big egos. Generally they come from good programs and they’ve been well coached. There’s a reason there’s so many Minnesotans playing in the National Hockey League and in college hockey. It’s because the development in Minnesota is probably as good or better as any place in the country.”
Oglevie back for BU
Winger Andrew Oglevie is expected to be available for the Boston University series after missing the previous four games through injury, per Jackson.
Oglevie has five goals and four assists to go with a plus-11 rating this season.