It was a playoff atmosphere inside Compton Family Ice Arena as the Notre Dame Fighting Irish faced the Minnesota Golden Gophers in the semi-finals of the Big Ten Tournament. How could it not have been? Both Minnesota and Notre Dame most likely need a conference championship and an autobid to get into the NCAA Tournament.
The Irish entered the game ranked #17 in the PairWise rankings, and after all of the game action across the country — they’re right back at #15.
As some of mentioned before, Notre Dame needs that autobid — and that’s okay.
The Ohio State Buckeyes and Penn State Nittany Lions will play in their semi-final game on Sunday afternoon, and that winner will face the Irish in the Big 10 championship game. If the Buckeyes win, the title game will be in Columbus. If Penn State wins, the Nittany Lions (also in need of an autobid) will have to travel to South Bend to take on the Irish.
The Irish are in this position right now because of mistakes from earlier in the year. If they can’t win the Big 10, then perhaps they really don’t belong in the NCAA Tournament. On the flipside, however, a Notre Dame hockey team with a Big 10 conference championship in hand could enter the tourney with the playoff mindset and momentum needed to make it back to the Frozen Four.
One simply has to look back at last year’s national champions, the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs, and you should be reminded how a “run” is all that is needed (with a whole bunch of special sauce too — but we’ll get to that later this month).
The best advice I can give eager fans is to watch the Buckeyes and Penn State on Sunday (Happy St. Patrick’s Day) and root for another game in South Bend.