The Notre Dame Fighting Irish hockey team is returning to the NCAA tournament looking for their first ever National Championship. The Irish drew the #3 seed in the Albany Regional and open their tournament slate with a matchup against the #2 seed North Dakota Fighting Hawks. The winner will advance to the Regional final to face the winner of the game between the #1 seed Minnesota State Mavericks and the #4 seed Harvard Crimson for a spot in the Frozen Four.
Where, When, How to Watch
- Where: MVP Arena, Albany, NY
- When: Thursday, March 24, 6pm ET (Regional Semifinal); Saturday, March 26, Time TBA (Regional Final if necessary)
- How to Watch: ESPNU and streaming on the ESPN App
Notre Dame enters the tournament having won seven of their last nine games, but they also come in with a bitter taste in their mouth and a nearly two week break between games after losing to the Michigan Wolverines in the Big Ten semifinal. Notre Dame will also be looking for redemption in the NCAA tournament after last year, when they were also drawn in the Albany Regional as the #4 seed but had to withdraw due to COVID protocols. This year is the sixth consecutive tournament bid for Notre Dame and their 13th in school history.
Notre Dame opens tournament play against North Dakota. Statistically, the Fighting Hawks don’t jump off the page and wow you, but they’re a strong team that does just about everything well but not spectacular. They are a team with a lot of star talent, most notably Jake Sanderson, the sophomore defenseman who was drafted 5th overall in the 2020 NHL Draft, who has played for Team USA in both the World Junior Championships and the Olympics. They’ve been hit hard by injuries this season to some key players though, including Sanderson, who has missed 14 games on the year and is somewhat questionable for the tournament. Still they’ve managed to finish the season with a 24-13-1 record, winning 9 of their last 11 games but losing in the NCHC semifinals.
If Notre Dame can get past North Dakota they will face the winner of the 1/4 matchup, either Minnesota State or Harvard. For as much as North Dakota doesn’t jump off the page statistically, the #1 seed Minnesota State is the exact opposite. The Mavericks lead the nation in goals scored on the season and have allowed the second fewest goals in the country. Senior Dryden McKay has been excellent in goal, allowing only 1.27 GAA. They also dominate shot share and hold a CF% of 62.1 in all situations. Minnesota State finished the season with a 35-5 record and won the CCHA championship. They’ve dominated from start to finish and will be an extremely tough out at any point in the tournament.
Despite being the #4 seed in the region Harvard is certainly no push over. They finished the season 21-10-3 and won the ECAC championship to earn an automatic bid to the tournament. The Crimson were on the outside looking in a few weeks ago, but are on a 13-3-1 run to end the season, including a win in the ECAC championship where they were outshot 49-17. Still, the process has been better than the results, as Harvard sits in the top 10 in both scoring offense and defense per game. They are an extremely young team though, and experience can go a long way at this time of year. Despite that Harvard still has a chance to surprise some people and they shouldn’t be counted out.
The best game of this Regional may very well be the first matchup between Notre Dame and North Dakota. Both teams are very evenly matched but where they separate a bit is in goal. Matthew Galajda has been superb for Notre Dame down the stretch and has the potential to be a real difference maker in the tournament. Notre Dame has also shown they can beat good teams all year and if Sanderson is out for North Dakota things become that much easier for the Irish. I think Notre Dame has a good chance to win the first game and advance to the Regional Final, but it will be close.
Unfortunately for both ND teams though, the winner most likely has to face Minnesota State, who should be able to beat a good Harvard team in their opening game. The Mavericks are just too good and their dominance this season will most likely be rewarded with a trip to the Frozen Four no matter who they face in the Regional.