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Big Ten set to make big mark on Frozen Four

| Thursday, April 5, 2018

After the losses of Cal Petersen and Anders Bjork from last year’s team, many believed the Irish were due for a regression from last year’s somewhat miraculous run to the Frozen Four.

Instead, the Irish (27-9-2, 17-6-1) proved those people wrong, returning to the Frozen Four for the first back-to-back run in program history. The No. 1-seeded Irish have a ton to prove this year in the Frozen Four, but not as much as the conference they play in: the Big Ten.

Mackenzi Marinovich | The Observer
Irish players celebrate a goal during a 4-2 victory over Wisconsin on Jan. 19 at Purcell Pavilion.

The hockey Big Ten is only a 5-year-old league, and with the addition of Notre Dame before this season, it expanded to seven teams. Despite having storied programs like Michigan and Minnesota, the league had failed to establish itself as a powerful force. It has failed to put a team in the Frozen Four since 2014 as the Hockey East and ECAC have consistently put teams in the Frozen Four.

This year, the conference has been second to none. Traditional hockey powerhouses have bowed out in favor of newer teams from the Big Ten. Say goodbye (for now) to North Dakota and Boston College, and hello to Ohio State and Penn State. The balance of power in college hockey has shifted. Whether this is a permanent change or a brief one remains to be seen, but there is no doubt that the Big Ten was the toughest league in college hockey this year.

The Big Ten put four of its seven teams into the 16-team tournament field, and now has three teams in the Frozen Four. In addition to the Irish, No. 1-seeded Ohio State blew past the defending champion Denver 5-1 to reach the Frozen Four, and No. 2-seeded Michigan blew past Boston University 6-3. This Big Ten-heavy Frozen Four is no accident; Big Ten teams were punishing traditional hockey powerhouses on their way to Saint Paul, Minnesota.

The Big Ten has been impressive so far, but it has unfinished business. A current Big Ten team has not won the national championship since Michigan State (then a member of the CCHA) did in 2007. If the Big Ten wants to claim its stake as the best conference in hockey, it needs one of its teams to finish the job, and Notre Dame is the team to do it.

Despite the incredible level of play in the Big Ten this year, Notre Dame was still able to have sustained success. The Irish clinched the regular-season title with five games left on their schedule, eight points ahead of second-place Ohio State. They gave up the fewest number of goals in the league and opened up 13-0 in league play.

The Irish now face familiar foe Michigan (22-14-3, 11-10-3) with a trip to the national championship on the line. The team is 2-2 against Michigan this season, with both teams winning two games of the series on their home ice. This Michigan team is good, with a high-scoring offense and an up-and-coming goaltender in sophomore Hayden Lavigne.

But Notre Dame can win the tough games. The Irish have won four-straight postseason games by one goal, two of those games in overtime.

They have the Frozen Four experience. They weren’t quite ready for the stage last year. With the media and the national limelight, they just weren’t ready to keep the miracle going out of the No. 4 seed. They’re back this year as the highest seed left in the tournament, and they have an incredible chance to solidify themselves as a premier program in a top-flight conference.

It’s Notre Dame’s time to prove itself. On behalf of itself and its conference, it’s time for the Irish to make this happen.

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