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Hockey: Frosty relations

Jack Hefferon | Thursday, February 7, 2013

 

The University of Michigan first opened its doors in Ann Arbor in 1837. Five years later, Father Sorin established the University of Notre Dame in a tiny cabin near the south bend of St. Joseph’s River.

And almost ever since, the two schools have battled on both the gridiron and the rink. The first hockey game between the Irish and Wolverines was played in 1921, and they’ve faced off in a total of 132 games since. But with the CCHA dissolving after this season and future scheduling issues, this weekend’s matchup between two of college hockey’s oldest rivals could be their last.

“I’ll be very disappointed if we don’t play Michigan in the future,” Irish coach Jeff Jackson said. “I have a lot of respect for [Wolverines coach] Red Berenson and that program, and we have a really good thing going with them. I would really like to play them in the future and right now they’re the ones that don’t want to get involved in it.”

Over the course of the series, No. 11 Notre Dame (16-11-1, 12-7-1-1 CCHA) and Michigan (10-16-2, 7-13-2-2) have built up plenty of enmity toward one another, and that usually translates into plenty of excitement and action on the ice.

“Any time we play Michigan it’s always intense,” Jackson said. “I don’t need to do much on my end to get them motivated or physically engaged – that will happen naturally.”

This weekend, that checking will fall to guys like junior winger Jeff Costello, who said that the history the two teams share is not lost on any of the players.

“You feel that [history] during the weekend,” Costello said. “We know that these universities have a rivalry, and not just these hockey teams, and that history boils over to our sport. … It’s definitely something special to be a part of.”

The Michigan series is especially meaningful for Notre Dame’s local players who grew up around the rivalry – sometimes as young Wolverine fans. Twenty-one of the 26 Irish skaters hail from the Big 10-dominated Midwest, including four players from within the confines of the mitten.

“I love the Michigan series; it’s always my favorite of the year,” junior winger Mike Voran, a native of Livonia, Mich., said. “I grew up in a family that loves the maize and blue, and actually grew up a Michigan fan. You always have a little extra energy in those games, because you want to win it so bad.”

Notre Dame holds the current bragging rights in the series, as the Irish swept the Wolverines in Michigan’s famed Yost Ice Arena back in November – the first time they had accomplished that feat in over 30 years. But Michigan is coming off an impressive sweep of Michigan State and, despite falling to ninth place in the conference standings, Jackson said the preseason favorites are back to playing their best hockey.

“They had a lot of injuries on the defensive end back when we beat them, and they have two freshman goalies,” he said. “But they dominated Michigan State last weekend for two nights. They look like the team that was picked to be second in the country at the beginning of the season.”

With no future matchups in sight, almost anything could happen when these two rivals fight for the last laugh this weekend. According to junior center and captain Anders Lee, only one thing is certain.

“I can guarantee that it’s going to be a grind,” he said. “It’ll be some good games and some good hockey.”

Contact Jack Hefferon at wheffero@nd.edu