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Can Cinderella skate?

Justin Schuver | Monday, March 22, 2004

Now Notre Dame will get to see if Cinderella can skate.The Irish advanced to the 16-team NCAA tournament for the first time in the program’s history, earning the No. 4 seed in the Grand Rapids, Mich. regional. They will face No. 1 seed and two-time defending national champion Minnesota Saturday.”There’s been so much time and energy over the years put into this program,” Irish coach Dave Poulin said. “Certainly there’s Lefty Smith, who I played for, and then the next head coach Ric Schafer and all the work they’ve put into over the years.”There were all the great teams in the late ’70s and early ’80s that never achieved this and my first thought is that it goes out to all of them and all the work that they put into this program. I know this will be a proud day for both of them.”The Notre Dame hockey team watched the NCAA Selection Show at Legends Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. with an ESPN2 camera crew present to record Notre Dame’s reaction. The Irish clapped and cheered in a boisterous celebration when their name flashed across the screen.”This is probably the best feeling I’ve had since I’ve been here,” senior defenseman Brett Lebda said. “I can’t even explain to you how I feel right now.”We’ve got a lot of work to do, and we’re anxious to get back to the rink tomorrow and start preparing for Minnesota.”Notre Dame’s tournament fate came down to the wire, as the Irish were tied with Colorado College and Colgate for 13th in the PairWise rankings at the time of the show. Three conference championship winners – Harvard, Holy Cross and Niagara – received automatic bids despite not being ranked in the top 16 in the PairWise rankings.The other three conference winners – Ohio State, Minnesota and Maine – were already ranked in the top 16 PairWise, so it basically came down to Notre Dame fighting Colorado College and Colgate for the final at-large bid.Because of a bonus that was added this year that rewarded teams for wins over tough non-conference opponents, the Irish were able to get in over the other two schools. Notre Dame defeated then-No. 1 Boston College and then-No. 4 Wisconsin on the road and defeated then-No. 3 Maine at a neutral site.”During the regular season, when we went into those games after playing a tough CCHA series the weekend before, you’d almost have to ask, ‘What are you doing?'” Poulin said. “Well, that’s exactly what you’re doing, is giving yourself a chance to win those big games.”It’s one thing to play, but you have to win those games, too. We really played very well against those teams.”As strange as it sounds, Notre Dame’s fate may have come down to the championship of the Hockey East, which was played Saturday night between Massachusetts and Maine. Maine came away with the win, defeating Massachusetts 2-1 in a three-overtime thriller, with Maine goalie Jim Howard making an amazing 63 saves in the victory.Had Massachusetts won the game, the Minutemen would have received an automatic bid. Because Maine was going to get into the tournament regardless – either as a tournament winner or an at-large bid – that would have been one less at-large bid available to the Irish and Notre Dame would have been left out.”I talked before the Super Six about not putting it in someone else’s hands, and I think this is a great lesson for our underclassmen,” Poulin said. “You want to control your fate as much as possible, but sometimes it’s not always your choice. I told the guys Friday to not spend the weekend fretting about it, and not worry about things they can’t control.”The Irish lost in the first round of the CCHA Super Six Thursday night, falling 6-5 in overtime to eventual champion Ohio State and placing Notre Dame firmly on the bubble. Altogether, the CCHA sent five teams to the tournament this year – Notre Dame, Ohio State, Michigan, Miami-Ohio and Michigan State.Notre Dame will face Minnesota at the Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids, Mich. at 12 p.m. Saturday. The winner of that contest will face the winner of the game between No. 2 Minnesota-Duluth and No. 3 Michigan State.