Notre Dame prepares for Frozen Four matchup against Denver
Alex Bender | Thursday, April 6, 2017
Notre Dame will be playing in the team’s third Frozen Four in program history and the first since 2011, facing Denver on Thursday night in Chicago.
The Irish (23-11-5, 12-6-4 Hockey East) are in fact acting as hosts for these national semifinals and championship, making them the first host team to advance to the Frozen Four since Wisconsin in 2006, a tournament the Badgers ultimately won. Notre Dame has a tough test ahead in No. 1 overall seed Denver. While the Irish and Pioneers (31-7-4, 20-4-3 NCHC) have not played yet this year, they skated to a pair of ties in early January last season.
Irish head coach Jeff Jackson, the man who has led the Irish to all three of their Frozen Four appearances, said he recognizes the challenge his team has ahead of them.
“First of all, I’ll say that [Denver] is well coached, but I think the biggest thing is they have got some veteran guys there that really make a big difference on their team, but they also have some great young players, too,” Jackson said. “Their top two lines are really skilled, and it’s not like they fall off a lot with their third and fourth lines.
“I really think it’s their defensive core that makes the biggest difference for them. They’re very mobile. … They’re a great transition team and they’re very offensive minded.”
Perhaps one of the more overlooked aspects of the upcoming game for the Irish is that none of the current team has been on this large a stage before. After commenting a couple weeks back that his team seemed at bit mesmerized when they were beat by UMass Lowell, 5-1, at Boston’s TD Garden in the Hockey East semifinals, Jackson said he believes the Irish can calm the nerves and play their style of hockey.
“I’m sure there is going to be some energy early on,” Jackson said. “We have to take care of the things that control momentum. If we take penalties or make bad turnovers, that puts us in a situation where that is magnified. We have to take care of the puck first and foremost, and we have to play with discipline.”
Luckily for Notre Dame, one area that they do not lack in experience is between the pipes. For the past three years the team has been in good hands with junior netminder Cal Petersen. As the only Division I goaltender serving as captain of his team, Petersen has posted a .929 save percentage and allowed just 2.13 goals per game this season, while also starting in 89 consecutive contests for the Irish dating back to his freshman year, good for fourth-longest streak in NCAA Division I history.
Petersen stole the show when the teams met in Denver last season, stopping 92 of the 95 shots he faced for a .968 save percentage on the weekend.
With just two wins standing between his team and a national championship, Petersen said the team feels confident and has the right attitude coming into Thursday.
“We’ve been playing really well,” Petersen said. “I think the biggest part is that we’re getting a lot of production from depth players and we’re getting scoring up and down the lineup where we don’t have to rely on one or two lines or a couple players each night. I think guys have found their roles and ways that they can help the team.
“We’ve been playing with a lot of confidence. … We’re in a good spot, and I think guys are looking forward to this.”
While these two teams have played 50 times during each program’s history, dating back to the 1970-71 season, this will certainly be the most important matchup yet. For Jackson, this matchup will feel even more familiar; Denver head coach Jim Montgomery’s first job in college hockey was as a volunteer assistant under Jackson during Jackson’s first year with the Irish.
The puck drops Thursday at 9:30 p.m. at the United Center.