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Hockey gets shot at Michigan in NCAA tourney

Notre Dame and Michigan will rekindle their hockey rivalry this week in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Nostalgia aside, the Irish will have to deal with the most prolific scoring offense in the country.

Old rivalries seem to have a way of resurfacing, even if the schools involved having nothing to do with it.

On Friday night Notre Dame and Michigan met in the NCAA Tournament in men’s basketball, with the Irish rallying past the Wolverines. Now hostilities will hit the ice as Notre Dame drew Michigan in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament in hockey.

Puck drop is set for 5:30 p.m. on Friday in Cincinnati as part of the Midwest regional. ESPNU will carry the telecast.

“We haven’t played Michigan for a few years,” said Irish head coach Jeff Jackson. “They obviously are one of the best teams in the country and they have probably the best player and the best line in the country. As usual, they’re a full throttle offensive juggernaut that can score in flurries. I think they are the leading scoring team in the country.

“So, you always have to be prepared. Michigan teams are always fast. They’re always skilled. We’re gonna have to really do a great job with the puck and also without it.”

These programs last met three seasons ago in the final Central College Hockey Association championship game. The Irish took that title, 3-1.

Afterward, Michigan moved into the new Big Ten conference while Notre Dame transitioned to Hockey East. They haven’t scheduled each other in the regular season since.

“Obviously, football is a huge rivalry,” said captain Steven Fogarty. “When we were in the CCHA these two teams had a lot of good games. I know they played in the semifinal a couple years ago. We’re excited. Any time you get to play Michigan, it’s pretty fun. Obviously, they’ve had some success this year, which makes it an exciting challenge.”

Michigan (24-7-5) won the Big Ten Tournament on Saturday with a 5-3 win over Minnesota. The Wolverines boast the three highest scoring players in the country, all on one line.

Kyle Connor leads the nation with 69 points on 35 goals and 34 assists. He’s joined by J.T. Compher (14 goals, 46 assists) and Tyler Motte (31 goals, 23 assists).

That trio will command some serious attention.

“I don’t think you do anything special, per se,” Jackson said. “You just have to have a good awareness away from the puck. You have to obviously have good one-on-one play. You have to have good awareness without the puck. I watched some of their game (Saturday) night against Minnesota and the one beautiful goal Connor scored, he was wide open at the back side of the net. He used his skills to deke the goalie out and the defender out and had an easy tap in. The biggest thing is to try not to leave people open all over the ice.”

The Wolverines lead the country in scoring at 4.89 goals per game and with a power play that connects almost 32 percent of the time.

Notre Dame (19-10-7) heads into the NCAA Tournament on the other end of the spectrum, having lost five of its last six while bowing out of the Hockey East Tournament to eventual champion Northeastern in the quarterfinals. The Irish were swept at home in that series.

Fortunately for Notre Dame, postseason play offers a reset button.

“We’re in the right state of mind right now,” said winger Sam Herr. “Moving forward, all we’re gonna focus on is Michigan. With that being said, the guys are obviously excited. We’re excited all week and will come back Monday ready to work. Have a good week of practice and we’ll see what happens on Friday.”

North Dakota headlines Midwest regional

No. 3 overall seed North Dakota (30-6-4) headlines the Midwest regional and will face Northeastern (22-13-5), winners of their last 13 games en route to the Hockey East tourney title.

Those teams will face each other at 2 p.m. Friday on ESPNU. Top Stories