There has been no love lost between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Michigan Wolverines. Yes, we all know it’s one of the great college football rivalries. However, in recent years, the rivalry between the two schools separated by 166 miles has extended past the gridiron.
When the puck drops for Thursday evening’s Frozen Four matchup, some Michigan fans might still be feeling the effects of their NCAA Tournament Final loss to the Villanova Wildcats in basketball. While the Irish men were left out of March Madness this year, it was just 2 years ago during Notre Dame’s first of two straight Elite Eight runs that they knocked out Michigan in the first round of the tournament. That same spring, the Wolverines knocked the Irish out of the hockey tournament in the first round with a 3-2 victory.
Friday evening will be the third time the rivals have met in the NCAA hockey tournament, with each school earning one victory thus far. Much like in the old CCHA days, these teams should be very familiar with one another, having played each other four times previously in conference play.
At this point, any Notre Dame hockey fan will tell you March Madness shouldn’t be a term only associated with basketball. The road to the Frozen Four for the Irish couldn’t have possibly been more exhilarating. In their last four games, two of which were in the Big Ten Tournament and two in the NCAA Tournament, they’ve won twice in overtime and twice with less than 32 seconds in regulation.
Things might not get any easier for Irish fans. Out of the four meetings between Michigan and Notre Dame, only one has been decided by more than one goal. Now they’ll meet with a trip to play for a national championship on the line, the Wolverines seeking their tenth title and Irish seeking their first.
Where: Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul, MN
When: Thursday, April 5, 9:30 PM EDT
Tale of the Tape
As the Irish are well aware, this Michigan team is loaded with talent, despite having finished third in the Big Ten. Sandwiched in between Notre Dame and Michigan were the Ohio State Buckeyes, who have a Frozen Four game of their own against the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs on Thursday at 6:00 PM.
In his first year as head coach, Mel Pearson has his Wolverines rolling into the tournament. Michigan hasn’t lost in regulation since February 3rd, sweeping Notre Dame in a home and home along the way. In the Northeast Regional Final, they dominated the Boston Terriers 6-3, in which six different Wolverines scored.
Their most dangerous weapons on offense are Cooper Marody and Tony Calderone. Marody led the Big Ten in points while Calderone led the conference in goals and been a thorn in the side of Irish goaltender Cale Morris while doing so. 3 of his 18 goals have come against the Irish this season.
All year long, the Irish have relied on stellar defense and goaltending. They’ll need to do the same in order to defeat the Wolverines for the fourth time in 2018. All year long, Morris has been the star for the Irish, regarded by many as the best goalie in the nation, and rightfully so. In the month of March, however, we’ve also seen a hero emerge on offense. In the four nail-biting victories leading up to the Frozen Four, Jack Jenkins, Cam Morrison, Jordan Gross, and Dylan Malmquist have all come up clutch at the end of the game.
The Last Time
These teams have met in two home-and-home series in 2018. The first being a Notre Dame sweep in January, 2-1 in each game. The second was a Michigan sweep in February, where they won 4-2 in South Bend and 1-0 in Ann Arbor. The February series was in the middle of a rough stretch for the Irish, where after having clinched the Big Ten regular season with a 2-1 against Ohio State, they dropped four of five to finish out the regular season.
This Michigan team isn’t the same team that Notre Dame swept in early January during their historic start to Big Ten play. The Wolverines can light up the scoreboard early and often, as Cale Morris found out on February 17th at Compton Family Ice Arena, when the Irish fell 4-2. There’s no reason to think this won’t provide the same theatrics that Notre Dame fans have become accustomed to since the end of the regular season. The Irish have stared the end of their season in the face four games in a row and come out on top each time. That’s what I think will be the deciding factor in this one. My prediction is the Irish once again show up in the clutch, and move on to Saturday’s national championship game.