Irish prepared to face North Dakota in NCAA Tournament
Nate Moller | Thursday, March 24, 2022
The No. 9/10 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (27-11-0) will begin their quest for a trip to the Frozen Four this Thursday when they face the No. 7/9 North Dakota Fighting Hawks (24-13-1) in the MVP Arena in Albany, New York.
This game will mark the first meeting between Notre Dame and North Dakota in the NCAA tournament. The teams are no strangers to each other historically, though, with the all-time series tied at 17-17-3.
Although the Irish were selected to last year‘s NCAA tournament, they were unable to play because of COVID-19 issues among the team. Coincidentally, the Irish were in Albany last year when they got eliminated from the tournament without even playing a game.
Head coach Jeff Jackson expressed his excitement to play in the tournament again, especially after the disappointing end to last year’s season.
“It was the end of our season last year, unfortunately. We are just excited to be back in the tournament and have a chance to play for a national championship. It all starts on Thursday night against a very good North Dakota team,” Jackson said.
Jackson hopes his team is extra motivated to play this year because of the circumstances that ended last year’s season.
“I hope it’s a reminder to appreciate the opportunity to play. Last year was a tough situation for our guys,” Jackson said. “I hope that’s an incentive to have a chance to play, back in the NCAA tournament.”
Jackson acknowledged that North Dakota will prove to be a difficult challenge for his team.
“They’ve always been a hard, strong on the puck type of team,” Jackson said. “They have good depth top to bottom and they play a very similar game to what we see out of the NCHC team. Just a hard team to play against. They get to the net, they’re hard on pucks, they get to pucks in transition, and they are just a very balanced team and certainly a big challenge.”
Although Jackson wishes his team had played for the Big Ten Championship last weekend, he believes the extra week off helped his team get healthy for the NCAA tournament.
“We gave them a couple of extra days off,” Jackson said. “We had a really good scrimmage yesterday for almost two hours to try and simulate that competitive environment we missed out on from not playing.”
Jackson believes his team has continued to improve ahead of the NCAA tournament, but he admitted that puck possession has been an issue.
“I like to believe we are still on an upward trajectory,” Jackson said. “When we played Michigan in that last series at home, that was some of the best hockey we played. The game at Michigan [in the Big Ten tournament semifinals], we didn’t have possession of the puck enough. We defended well, but you need to generate some offense too.”
Jackson has been pleased with the play of graduate student Matthew Galajda in goal and the team‘s defense, but he hopes the offense can improve against North Dakota.
“We need to find some of that scoring that has evaporated over the last month or so. We were getting such good scoring from all four lines early in the year. Our fourth line on the depth chart has been productive, but some other guys have dropped off, which has kind of hurt our scoring depth,” Jackson said. “It’s going to be a matter of getting a little more production from each of our four lines.”
The puck will drop in Albany at 6 pm EDT on Thursday. The game can be viewed on ESPNU. The winner of Thursday’s game will play the winner of Minnesota State and Harvard for a ticket to the Frozen Four in Boston.
Our hockey beat writers gave their predictions for Thursday‘s NCAA tournament first-round game against North Dakota.
Nate Moller — Sports Writer
The Irish come into this one playing arguably their best hockey of the season. Although they lost a hard-fought game at Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals, the Irish had a series sweep of Michigan earlier in the month and a win against Minnesota. They will undoubtedly be challenged by a very talented North Dakota team that has gone toe-to-toe all season with top NCHC teams like Minnesota-Duluth, Western Michigan, Denver, and St. Cloud State. The Fighting Hawks also played in last year’s tournament, winning their first game, which should give them a leg up on the Irish in terms of experience.
North Dakota will likely go into this game as favorites, but I like this Irish team. Matthew Galajda has been great in goal, and the Irish penalty kill unit has been sensational. The Irish find a way to advance in overtime with a game-winner from Trevor Janicke.
Notre Dame 2, North Dakota 1 (OT)
Andrew McGuinness — Assistant Sports Editor
The Irish and Fighting Hawks match up fairly similarly in a lot of areas. Both teams have well-rounded offenses with one scorer well ahead of the pack — Max Ellis for Notre Dame, Riese Gaber for North Dakota. They have outstanding defenses with mobile, two-way blue-liners. And each has an outstanding special teams unit — for North Dakota, it‘s their power-play (23.4%), while Notre Dame‘s penalty kill has been lights out all year. This game, as so many playoff games do, will come down to goaltending. And the Irish have to like their chances of Matthew Galajda (.930) outdueling Zach Driscoll (.907) in saves.
Notre Dame 3, North Dakota 1
Thomas Zwiller — Sports Writer
Notre Dame is a defense-first squad that only allows 2.1 goals per game and has the second-best penalty-killing unit at .904 (despite giving opponents 136 bites at the apple). Offensively, the Irish rank 12th in scoring, averaging 3.3 goals per game. North Dakota is the worse defensive team allowing 2.6 goals and ranks 39th in penalty killing (.782). And offensively, North Dakota ranks 20th, averaging 3.1 gpg.
However, North Dakota is significantly better than Notre Dame on the power play (.237 versus .194). In addition, North Dakota will have an advantage in winning faceoffs against Notre Dame, as they are the third-best in the country (.555) while the Irish rank 8th (.538).
This game will be a close one, but I do expect Notre Dame to win the battle of the NDs.
Notre Dame 3, North Dakota 2
Dominic Gibson— Sports Writer
North Dakota presents a huge opening round challenge for the Irish this year. The Fighting Hawks are an extremely battle-tested team that competed in a deep NCHC Conference. Though North Dakota is more than likely the projected favorite, I think that Notre Dame has a few key things going for them headed into this matchup.
Playoff success rides a lot on goaltending and the Irish have some of the best in the nation with Matthew Galajda. Notre Dame is also peaking at the right time and playing some of their best hockey this season. The Irish edge out a hard-fought game with goals from Landon Slaggert and Max Ellis.
Notre Dame 3, North Dakota 2