Who: No. 4 seed Notre Dame (21-11-5) vs. No. 1 seed Minnesota (23-11-3)
When: 3:30 p.m. today
Where: SNHU Arena; Manchester, N.H.
Radio: 94.3 FM (WZOC)
Some members of the Notre Dame hockey program landed in Manchester, N.H., this week with fond NCAA tournament memories.
It’s been six years since the Irish last started their postseason journey in the Northeast Regional. Things went well back in 2011. Notre Dame beat Merrimack and New Hampshire en route to their second Frozen Four appearance.
Anders Lee, now in his fourth full season in professional hockey, was a freshman on that squad.
He’s appeared in more than 250 games for the New York Islanders since.
“In that specific weekend we got really good goaltending from Mike Johnson and we had two tough opponents,” said head coach Jeff Jackson. “We had two tough opponents. We had the hometown team, New Hampshire. And then Merrimack, who at that time was I think a No. 1 seed. That was the best team they’ve probably had at Merrimack. That was a tough game. We were fortunate to get that game into overtime then the great play by Anders Lee at the end.
“But I think a lot of it had to do with the closeness and chemistry of that group that had a big impact. Those freshmen were fearless that year.”
Minnesota-Duluth eventually ousted the Irish in the national semifinal.
NCAA tournament success has been difficult to find since.
Notre Dame is 0-3 in its last three appearances — 2013, 2014 and 2016. St. Cloud State played spoiler in both 2013 and 2014. Michigan captured an overtime win in the Midwest regional last season.
Winning single elimination hockey games boils down to several factors. But the bottom line is no player on the Irish roster has had any NCAA success. That’s something they hope to change starting at 3:30 p.m. today against No. 1 seed Minnesota.
“I think everyone wants to do it for the university and the coaching staff, obviously,” said forward Andrew Oglevie. “I know the guys that have been here even longer than I have, they really wanna do it for coach. They wanna do it for Notre Dame. I know I’ve only been here for two years now, but it’s the same kind of drive, same feeling.”
Standing in the way are two obstacles: One of the most prolific scoring teams in the country and the lingering feeling of a loss.
UMass-Lowell, which faces Cornell on Saturday in the other Northeast regional game, dismantled Notre Dame in the Hockey East semifinal with a 5-1 win. Lowell went on to win the league title the next night.
Otherwise the Irish have been rolling with a 7-2-2 record since the beginning of February.
“It kinda just goes along with what we’ve been talking about all year,” Oglevie said. “Doing the little things that maybe we weren’t so good at last Friday against Lowell. We slipped up. But we were doing all those little things. Coach always says the last six to eight weeks we’ve been really good at doing those things. If we can work on those things in practice and really reiterate them all week, get them going in the game and keep reinforcing that on the bench and what not I think it’ll be really important.”
Doing so will be paramount against the Golden Gophers, regular season champions of the Big Ten and a top five scoring team nationally at 3.76 goals per game.
Minnesota is good enough to beat Notre Dame even if the Irish play well. That’s how Notre Dame felt after falling in the NCAA tournament against Michigan last year in overtime.
That served as another lesson in the perils of NCAA tournament hockey.
“Being on the team last year and having that loss to Michigan in the NCAA tournament I think helped a lot of the guys on the team how close we really were,” said forward Dylan Malmquist. “We played a really solid game and it can still happen. I think with that experience we’ve come to grow and fix what we needed to.”
Petersen a Richter Award finalist
On Thursday, Notre Dame goalie Cal Petersen was named one of five finalists for the Mike Richter Award, handed out annually to the nation’s top goaltender.
Petersen joins Michael Bitzer (Bemidji State), Tanner Jaillet (Denver), Hunter Miska (Minnesota-Duluth) and Charles Williams (Canisius) as finalists. The winner will be announced April 7 at the Frozen Four in Chicago.
Heading into the NCAA tournament, Petersen has a 2.14 goals-against average and .928 save percentage with six shutouts. His shutout total is tied for tops nationally. He’s ranked ninth in save percentage and sits 12th in goals-against average.