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Notre Dame’s NCAA history shows mixed results

Sam Gans | Thursday, March 24, 2011

For many years, the NCAA tournament had eluded the Notre Dame hockey program. Until 2004, the Irish never competed in the extra season. But recently, Notre Dame participation in the event has become nearly commonplace.

This season marks the fifth time in history the Irish have qualified for the event, including the fourth in the past five years. Throughout the years, there have been unexpected triumphs and shocking failures, and members of the current senior class have experienced both. But, no matter whether the Irish exceeded or sunk below tournament expectations in a given year, one thing has constantly remained out of reach: a national championship.

The Irish are on a quest to change that this time around, and if history — or luck — is on Notre Dame’s side, it will have a great opportunity to do so.

In 2008, Notre Dame went limping into the NCAA tournament after a disappointing 0-2 weekend at the CCHA tournament in Detroit. Overlooked and counted out, the Irish upset No. 1-seed New Hampshire in the first round 7-3 before defeating Michigan State 3-1 to reach the Frozen Four, where they faced bitter rival Michigan. Tied in overtime, then-freshman Calle Ridderwall scored to put the Irish in the national championship game. Though Notre Dame would lose to Boston College, the run greatly surpassed any expectations by experts entering the tournament.

Flash-forward to 2011, Notre Dame is limping into the NCAA tournament after a disappointing 0-2 weekend at the CCHA tournament in Detroit, overlooked and counted out.

“My freshman year we were in the same situation, coming off two losses,” senior right wing Ryan Guentzel said. “We went to Colorado Springs and kind of got away from here. We were able to do our own thing. We just had that kind of underdog mentality. That’s what we’re going to go with this weekend.”

Of course, for the current seniors who were on the team in 2008 — Ridderwall, Guentzel, and center Ben Ryan — the tournament has not always been as kind.

One year after being in the underdog role and making the most out of it, the Irish were on the opposite end of the spectrum. Entering the 2009 tournament, Notre Dame was a No. 1 seed and scheduled to play the last team in the field in Bemidji State. The result? An overwhelming 5-1 Bemidji State win.

The two distinct results provide interesting contrasts heading into a regional semifinal game.

“They’ve been in situations that cause you to lose to Bemidji State or beat Michigan in the semifinal,” Irish coach Jeff Jackson said. “They’ve been through both types of situations. The most important thing is that they relay that information to their teammates.”

Though none of the players were around, Jackson was also behind the bench for Notre Dame’s 2007 run, in which the Irish notched their first ever tournament victory. The No. 1-seed Irish beat Alabama-Huntsville 3-2 in double overtime in the first round before losing to Michigan State 2-1.

The first time the Irish qualified, 2004, was under former coach Dave Poulin. The stay was short-lived with an opening round loss to Minnesota 5-2, despite firing out to a 2-0 lead.

An unexpected Cinderella run, a shell-shocking oust, a mildly disappointing end, and a defeat with a “just happy to be here” mentality. Four different seasons, four different results. The Irish know which one they’re trying to emulate this year.

“The Frozen Four experience is what’s going to stick out right now,” Ryan said. “But I think we have a great chance to get back there. I fully believe that our team has a chance to get back to the same spot. We’ve played against the best teams in the country and competed with them. Hopefully, I’ll look back on this year and remember it as the best moment.”