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Notre Dame Hockey Set to Play Michigan in NCAA Tournament Opener

Yep, just like basketball.

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Notre Dame will battle Michigan in the NCAA Tournament - again. The Irish basketball team took out the Wolverines a week ago today, and now the hockey team looks to follow suit. This time, though, Michigan comes in the higher seed - the Wolverines are seeded #2 in the Midwest Regional to ND's #3. The game will start at 5:30 p.m. on ESPNU from Cincinnati's US Bank Arena. The winner will draw the North Dakota/Northeastern winner in the regional final, Saturday at 6 p.m. (ESPN2).

The only previous NCAA tournament meeting between these teams came in the national semifinals in 2008. How did that one end again?

Alright, sorry. I watched that like 6 times.

Anyway, the Irish were one of the hottest teams in the country for a time this season, losing only once in December and January combined. But the Irish have been struggling the last few weeks, losing 5 out of 6, including a two-game sweep at the hands of Northeastern in the Hockey East quarterfinals. Michigan, meanwhile, is 14-4-1 in this calendar year, pretty much blowing through its Big Ten schedule that ND will soon be emulating.

The thing that jumps out about Michigan is they score. A lot. The Wolverines have four players with more points than any Irish player, led by freshman dynamo Kyle Connor, who poured in 35 goals (by itself more points than any ND player - wow) and had 69 points, far and away tops in the country in both categories. Junior Tyler Motte added 31 goals (2nd in the country), and junior JT Compher had 46 assists for the season (1st). Containing that trio will be vital to whatever chance the Irish have at springing a minor upset.

What ND does have, though, is a distinct goaltender advantage. Playing a more stringent schedule than Michigan's, the Irish's Cal Petersen put up a 2.19 goals-against average and single-handedly won the Irish a few games, while the Wolverines' Steve Racine had a mark of 2.89, not good enough to crack the NCAA top 50. Petersen will have to pull a Giguere/Halak style miracle to get ND far into the tournament, and he might as well start here.

On offense for ND, Anders Bjork is the Irish's most dynamic offensive player, with 33 points for the season (tied with Jake Evans for the team lead), 11 of them on goals. Thomas DiPauli led ND in goals, with 13. Mario Lucia had 12 goals, but after a breakout season a year ago, Lucia was relatively quiet this year. A return to 2015 form would be exceptionally nice for the senior, who scored twice in ND's most recent game.

The ND/Michigan game kicks off what could be a nice tripleheader of ND action (hockey at 5:30, men's hoops at 7:30, women's hoops at 9). If the hockey team can get a great game from Petersen and some spark from Lucia and Bjork, the Irish can get that off to a good start.