After a pair of victories against the Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks last weekend, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish will welcome the defending national champion Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs to South Bend starting on Friday evening, in a rematch of last year’s national championship game. There may not be a national championship banner on the line this week, but the series will feature the two top ranked teams in both the USCHO and USA Hockey Magazine polls.
Where: Compton Family Ice Arena, Notre Dame, Indiana
When: Friday, Oct. 26, 7:00 p.m. ET (Game 1) and Saturday, Oct. 27, 5:00 p.m. ET (Game 2)
Watch: NBC Sports Network (Game 1) and NBC Sports Chicago+ (Game 2)
In what will be the final weekend series before Big Ten play starts next weekend, the atmosphere at Compton should be a great one. The Irish, nor their fans, have forgotten this past April’s stunning 2-1 upset which gave the Bulldogs their second national championship in program history.
Notre Dame is coming into this weekend hungry for revenge. They outscored Nebraska-Omaha 12-3 last week, thanks to forwards Cal Burke, Dylan Malmquist, Joe Wegwerth, and defenseman Bobby Nardella. All four players had multiple goal games in the series. Nardella and Burke were recognized for their excellent play by being named the Big Ten first and third stars of the week, respectively.
There was also encouraging play behind the net for Notre Dame. After a brutal first start against the Mercyhurst Lakers, goaltender Cale Morris has bounced back to stop 53 of 55 shots in his two starts since. The weekend was so impressive it led to Notre Dame jumping ahead of this weekend’s opponent for the top spot in the USA Today college hockey poll, although they still trail the Bulldogs in the USCHO poll.
Gone is last year’s Frozen Four MVP Karson Kuhlman, but Minnesota-Duluth is still returning plenty of talent from last year’s national champion team, and the team the year before who made it to the national championship game. Forwards Parker Mackay, Riley Tufte and Tanner Laderoute all have three goals in the Bulldogs’ first six games of the season. Another player to watch is sophomore Scott Perunovich, a physical defenseman who remarkably has nine assists thus far.
The Fighting Irish are no stranger to Hunter Shepard, who was named last year’s All-Tournament goalie after the Frozen Four, in part thanks to his 19 of 20 saves in the national championship game. Throughout the first six games of the season, Shepard has a 4-1-1 record with a 2.41 GAA and .891 SV%, so it won’t be easy for the Irish to replicate their offensive showcase from last week.
Jeff Jackson and his squad have had over six months to think about this weekend’s match-up. Last season, Notre Dame had all the momentum, as the number one seed in their region, only to fall to a third seeded Minnesota-Duluth team that only got into the tournament thanks to an Irish victory over the Ohio State Buckeyes. There will be no extra motivation needed for the players that were on the ice the last time these teams met. I see Notre Dame sweeping this series, and come this time next week, sweeping both polls as the number one team in the nation.