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Hockey: ND looking for Frozen Four repeat

Matt Gamber | Friday, August 22, 2008

After their remarkable NCAA Tournament run ended in a 4-1 national championship game loss to Boston College, the Irish have officially reloaded.

Notre Dame returns 18 letter winners, including eight of its nine top scorers and all-CCHA goaltender Jordan Pearce. Add to that mix a heralded group of seven freshmen, led by U.S. Under-18 teammates Patrick Gauland and Sean Lorenz and the Irish are among the nation’s favorites to return to the Frozen Four.

“I think that seeing the response from how last season finished, I think that they got a taste of what it’s like to play in the Frozen Four and get so close,” Irish coach Jeff Jackson said. “Now they’ve got to go through the work of trying to get back there again.”

The road to Washington, D.C., where this year’s Frozen Four will be held, begins Oct. 11, when the Irish travel to face Denver in the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Game. After a pair of home non-conference showdowns with Sacred Heart on Oct. 17-18, Notre Dame opens up its CCHA slate with two home games against perennial power Miami (Ohio) on Oct. 24-25.

But the game likely to be circled on the calendars of most Irish fans? At Boston College on Nov. 7 – the national title rematch.

“Any time you’re slated to play one of the top teams, it’s going to be an exciting game, but the fact that we finished last season against them, I’m sure our guys will have a little more incentive in that game,” Jackson said. “They’re going to be one of the top teams in the country again. It’ll be a big game just from a rivalry factor.”

Jackson said leading scorer Erik Condra, who missed the NCAA Tournament after injuring his knee in the CCHA playoffs, and Christian Hanson, who was hurt in the title game, will both be ready for the beginning of the season. Those injuries, Jackson said, were a by-product of the aggressive, relentless style of play that made the Irish such a dangerous tournament team.

“At the end of the season we had four or five guys who had to have surgery and fairly substantial injuries,” Jackson said. “When you’re playing with the intensity level that we did in the NCAA Tournament, you get banged up, and that’s the kind of price that you’ve got to pay to get back there.”

Despite losing two of its strongest leaders from a year ago in captain Mark Van Guilder and hard-nosed defenseman Brock Sheahan, Notre Dame looks poised to build on the unprecedented success of the past two seasons.

“The things that made us successful [in the NCAA Tournament] against Michigan, Michigan State and New Hampshire, we’ve got to remember what kind of price we paid to get to that point,” Jackson said. “If we assume things will just fall in place, that’s not how it works. We’re going to have to play with that same kind of passion we played with in the NCAA Tournament just to get back there again.”

Sam Werner contributed to this report.