After the grind of the regular season where the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (25-9-2) won their conference, and a Big Ten Tournament that saw the Irish win two thrillers against the Penn State Nittany Lions and Ohio State Buckeyes, the time has finally come for head coach Jeff Jackson and his squad to return to the NCAA Division I Men’s Ice Hockey Tournament. They’ll kick things off this Friday afternoon as they take on the Michigan Tech Huskies (22-16-5) in Bridgeport, CT.
The Irish are coming off of two very emotional 3-2 victories. In the conference semifinal against Penn State, it took a Jack Jenkins goal with 31 seconds remaining to send the Irish to the Big Ten Tournament final on St. Patrick’s Day, where a Cam Morrison overtime winner electrified the Notre Dame home crowd. The victories solidified the Irish as the #1 seed in the East region, and #2 overall seed in the tournament. They’ll begin their quest to avenge last year’s heartbreaking loss in the Frozen Four at the hands of the Denver Pioneers.
The game will kick off the 2018 NCAA tournament. Following Friday’s game between the Irish and Huskies, the Providence Friars and Clarkson Golden Knights will score off to see who the winner will face in the next round. The tournament appearance is the tenth in school history for the Irish, and the third straight. All but one tournament appearance for the Irish have come under Jackson.
Where: Webster Bank Arena, Bridgeport, CT
When: Friday, March 23, 3:00 PM EDT
Watch: ESPN2 or the WatchESPN app
The Irish kick off the NCAA Tournament on Friday at 3 p.m. ET, but before they take the ice, take a look back at the moment they discovered they'd make the 16-team field!#GoIrish pic.twitter.com/LZl91F9Z3e— Notre Dame Hockey (@NDHockey) March 21, 2018
Tale of the Tape
Jackson’s counterpart on the bench during Friday night’s game will be a former player of his, Joe Shawhan. While an assistant with the Lake Superior State Lakers, Shawhan was a third-string goalie. Like the Irish, Shawhan’s Huskies made their way into the tournament by winning their conference tournament. On Saturday, Michigan Tech defeated rival Northern Michigan Wildcats for their second straight Western Collegiate Hockey Association crown. The tournament appearance is the second straight for the Huskies, and third since 2015.
Junior forward Jake Lucchini is Tech’s most dangerous weapon on offense. Lucchini leads the team in both goals with 16 and points with 37. The only player in the Big Ten that has found the net more is Tony Calderone of the Michigan Wolverines, who had success against the Notre Dame defense, scoring three goals in four games.
Trying to stop Lucchini and the Huskies offense will be Hobey Baker finalist Cale Morris. Morris has shined all season, posting an outstanding .948 save percentage. From here on out, every game will be the biggest of his career for the sophomore goaltender. He’s already gotten national attention for his play this season, and he’s performed well under pressure thus far. In the two games of the Big Ten Tournament, he stopped a total of 84 shots, giving up a pair of goals in each game.
Many key skaters on this year’s Irish team played big roles last year during their journey to the Frozen Four. Senior Jake Evans, junior Andrew Oglevie, senior Jordan Gross, and sophomore Cal Burke are just a few of the players who have the experience of playing under the spotlight of a deep NCAA Tournament run. In order for the Irish to advance, they’ll need this experience to pay off. They’ll also need their forward to continue getting the kind of pressure on the net that we saw in the B1G semifinal against Penn State, and the first half of the B1G final against Ohio State.
The Last Time
The two schools had brief stints in the same conference. From 1971-1981, the Irish were a member of the WCHA, where the Huskies have played for most of their time as a hockey program, with the exception of 1981-1984. During that three year window, the Huskies played in the now defunct Central Collegiate Hockey Association, which the Irish were members of at the time. The last time the schools faced off against one another was in January 2017, when they split a series at Compton Family Ice Arena.
Michigan Tech has gotten hot at the right time. After finishing the regular season with an overall record of 22-16-5, it was evident they needed to win their conference tournament to get a bid to the NCAA tournament. The only team they’ve gone up against that’s as highly regarded as the Irish coming into the tournament are the Minnesota State Mavericks. In order to make it to last week’s WCHA Championship Game, it took an overtime victory against the Mavericks in game 3 of the WCHA semifinal.
Judging by how they played in the Minnesota State series and against Northern Michigan, it’s apparent that the Huskies are better than their regular, or seed, indicates. That taken into consideration, they don’t have an offense that I can see giving Morris much trouble. The Notre Dame offense, which has looked hungry since the beginning of the conference tournament, shouldn’t have too much trouble finding the net against a Michigan Tech team that’s had a goalie carousel all season. I’m predicting the Irish defeat the Huskies in a close one, and move on to play on Saturday at 6 PM.