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Irish prep for grudge match

| Friday, March 28, 2014

The No. 9 Irish might be feeling a little déjà vu when they face St. Cloud State on Saturday night in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Senior Left Wing Jeff Costello skates down the ice during Notre Dame's 2-0 win over Boston on Feb. 22.Bella Blanco | The Observer
Senior Left Wing Jeff Costello skates down the ice during Notre Dame’s 2-0 win over Boston on Feb. 22.
Notre Dame (23-14-2), the West Regional’s No. 2 seed, will hope for a better result than the one from last season’s opening round NCAA tournament game against the Huskies (21-10-5), when the Irish were the top seed in the Midwest Regional.

The final score of that game? St. Cloud State 5, Notre Dame 1.

Irish coach Jeff Jackson said he’s not emphasizing last year’s game to his players as a motivational ploy for Saturday’s contest, which will be played in the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.

“This is a new year, new team,” Jackson said. “They’re a different team; they’re still similar in the way they play and so are we, but this is about playing Saturday and against a very good hockey team. We can’t isolate the fact that they were the team that finished our season last year. We have to focus on doing the things that are going to help us be much more successful than we were a year ago against them.”

The Irish enter the game off a 4-0 loss to UMass-Lowell on Friday in the Hockey East semifinals. The No. 3 -seed Huskies also are limping into the NCAA tournament. The regular-season NCHC champions were swept in the first round of the conference tournament by Miami (Ohio), losing 5-4 and 4-3 on March 14 and 15, respectively.

Although Jackson said revenge is not on his mind, he is using last year’s NCAA tournament game for strategic purposes.

“The first clips [of film] I watched were of our game against them last year,” he said. “A lot of the things they do are the same. In the most recent games they had against Miami, those games just reemphasized the things that caused us to lose to them last year. We turned pucks over too frequently, which plays into their transition game.

“But it’s not just that. It’s about being able to make plays at both blue lines that are not just chipping pucks out or chipping pucks in. We need to try to generate offense from the blue lines as opposed to just turning the puck over.”

The Huskies are led by senior forward Nic Dowd, one of 10 finalists for the Hobey Baker Award given annually to the top player in college hockey. Dowd and the St. Cloud State offense averages 3.67 goals per game, while the Irish surrender just 2.10 goals per game.

The winner of Saturday’s game plays the winner of Minnesota and Robert Morris in the regional final on Sunday for a spot in the Frozen Four. The Gophers (25-6-6) are the top seed in the tournament and a heavy favorite over the Colonials (19-17-5).

The potential Notre Dame-Minnesota matchup would be the third meeting of the season between the two schools. The Irish and Gophers split a two-game series in the Compton Family Ice Arena on Nov. 8 and 9.

It would also mark another matchup between Irish sophomore forward Mario Lucia and his father, Minnesota head coach Don Lucia.

“We’ve got to win before we can get there,” Mario Lucia said. “We’ve got to take care of Saturday night and hopefully we’ll get to play them Sunday. If you look too far ahead, your season will be over.”

The Irish will likely deal with a hostile crowd in both potential games in the State of Hockey. St. Cloud is less than 80 miles from St. Paul while Minnesota’s campus in Minneapolis is just a short bus ride from the Xcel Energy Center.

“We know they’re going to have a big crowd there in Minnesota with St. Cloud and potentially Minnesota, obviously,” Irish senior forward T.J. Tynan said. “I think we’re fine with it. I think we even enjoy that – being the underdog. We kind of like the fans being all over us and stuff like that, for sure.”

The Irish and Huskies face off at 9 p.m., Saturday, with the regional final scheduled for 7:30 p.m., Sunday.

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