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Notre Dame draws Michigan in NCAA tournament opening round

| Wednesday, March 23, 2016

After bowing out of the Hockey East tournament in the quarterfinals, the Irish can now rest easy knowing they did enough during the season to earn a spot in the NCAA tournament.

No. 12 Notre Dame (19-10-7, 15-5-2 Hockey East) will face No. 7 Michigan in the first round of the tournament in Cincinnati on Friday evening at U.S. Bank Arena.

The Wolverines (24-7-5, 12-5-3 Big Ten) earned the No. 2 seed in the Midwest Region after winning the Big Ten tournament on Saturday while Notre Dame skates into the NCAA tournament with an at-large bid and the No. 3 seed.

Senior captain and center Steven Fogarty said the team is excited to return to the tournament after missing out on a bid a season ago.

“It’s pretty exciting,” Fogarty said. “The second our season ended last year, this was a goal of ours. It’s been a focal point of our team this year, and just to see our name up there is obviously really exciting. With a team like Michigan, it makes it even cooler, so it’s pretty special, and we’re excited.”

By virtue of drawing Michigan in the first round, the Irish will renew a rivalry that has remained dormant since the CCHA disbanded in 2013. The two teams have met 134 times since the rivalry started in 1921, with Michigan leading the all-time series 73-56-5. They last met in the final CCHA season, with the Irish recording a 5-0-0 record against the Wolverines in the 2012-13 season, including a 3-1 victory in the CCHA championship game in Detroit, Michigan.

Sophomore goalie Cal Petersen attempts to save a shot during Notre Dame’s 6-4 loss to Northeastern on March 12. Michael Yu | The Observer
Sophomore goalie Cal Petersen attempts to save a shot during Notre Dame’s 6-4 loss to Northeastern on March 12.

Senior alternate captain and left wing Sam Herr talked about how much it means to be renewing a historic rivalry in such an important game.

“It’s arguably the best rivalry in sports as far as college goes,” Herr said. “I grew up idolizing this rivalry. It’s pretty special I can be a part of it, let alone be a part of Notre Dame in general, so I’m embracing it. It means a lot that I can be a part of it.”

The Irish and the Wolverines have met once before in the NCAA tournament, a 2008 Frozen Four game in Denver, Colorado. The Irish prevailed 5-4 in overtime to advance to the championship game.

“Obviously football is a huge rivalry,” Fogarty said, “but when we were in the CCHA, these two teams had a lot of good games. … We’re excited we get to play Michigan. It’s pretty fun. Obviously they’ve had some success this year, which makes it an exciting challenge, but we’re definitely up for it.”

Michigan has had one of the strongest offensive seasons of any team in the tournament, led by three of the highest-scoring forwards in all of college hockey. Freshman Kyle Connor and juniors J.T. Compher and Tyler Motte are three of the top four point scorers in the country, with 69, 60 and 54 points respectively.

Irish head coach Jeff Jackson mentioned the need to contain the “CCM” line in particular after learning his team had drawn Michigan in the first round.

“We haven’t played Michigan in a few years,” Jackson said. “They obviously are one of the best teams in the country. They probably have the best player on the best line in the country. As usual, they’re a full throttle offensive juggernaut that can score in flurries. I think they are the leading scoring team in the country, so you always have to be prepared. Michigan teams are always fast, always skilled. We’re gonna have to do a great job with the puck and also without it.”

After losing five of six games to close out their season, including a home sweep at the hands of Northeastern in the Hockey East tournament, the Irish are thankful they have the chance to keep playing and to redeem themselves against top competition.

“We’re in the right set of mind right now, and all we’re gonna do moving forward is focus on Michigan. With that being said, the guys are obviously excited. We’ve been excited all week, and we just have to come back Monday ready to work, have a good week of practice, and we’ll see what happens on Friday.”

“I think for us, we ran into a really good team in the end there, obviously Northeastern has proven that they’re not a fluke,” Jackson said. “I think for us it’s kind of a second life, a second opportunity to prove ourselves. We get into an opportunity where we get to play in the NCAA tournament, at that point it’s a new season.”

If the Irish are able to get past the Wolverines Friday night, they will play the winner of a game between No. 1-seeded North Dakota and No. 4-seeded Northeastern in the regional final Saturday.

Michigan and Notre Dame will meet in the opening round of the NCAA tournament Friday. The puck drops at 5:30 pm at U.S. Bank Arena in Cincinnati.

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