March 27, 2014
Notre Dame, Ind. - For the second consecutive season and the sixth time since 2007, the Notre Dame hockey team will appear in the NCAA Tournament. The Irish, the No. 2 seed in the West Regional in St. Paul, Minn., will face No. 3 seed St. Cloud State at 8:00 p.m. (CT) in a game that will be televised on ESPNU with Clay Matvick and Sean Ritchlin calling the action. The opening game of the regional will feature top-seeded Minnesota versus No. 4 seed Robert Morris University from Pittsburgh, Pa., in a game that will start at 4:30 p.m. (CT) on ESPN2.
Notre Dame's meeting with St. Cloud State is a rematch of last year's Midwest Regional in Toledo, Ohio. There, the No. 4 seeded Huskies handed the No. 1 seed Notre Dame a 5-1 loss to start their run to the Frozen Four.
The Irish enter the regional ranked ninth in both the USA Today/U.S. Hockey Magazine and USCHO.com polls with a 23-14-2 overall record. St. Cloud State is ranked eighth in both polls and is 21-10-5 on the season. The Huskies were the regular-season champions of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) in that league's first season of competition. They were upset in the conference quarterfinals by Miami University, two games to none.
The winner of both of Saturday's regional games will advance to the West Regional final at 6:30 p.m. (CT) on Sunday evening, March 30. That game will be televised by ESPNU. The winner of the regional will advance to the Frozen Four at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pa. on April 10-12.
So how will the Irish use last year's loss to the Huskies as motivation for Saturday's rematch? Irish head coach Jeff Jackson reminds us that the make up of both teams has changed a bit and the teams will have to play their games.
"We have a lot of guys in that room that were part of that 5-1 loss. They know what happened last year," says Jackson.
"The important thing is that this is a new year, a new team, they (St. Cloud State) are a different team. They are still similar in the way that they play and so are we. This is about playing on Saturday against a very good hockey team. We can't isolate on the fact that they were the team that finished our season last year. We have to focus on doing the things that are going to help us be much more successful than we were a year ago."
In preparing for this year's game, Jackson started his preparation by watching last year's contest.
"The first thing I did was watch clips from that game," says Jackson.
"In watching the game, we didn't execute very well last year for whatever reason, I'm not sure. We tried to prepare our team - maybe we tried too hard. I am trying to put more emphasis on us this year. Obviously you have to do some things to offset their strengths and weaknesses but this has to be about us. I thought we turned pucks over too frequently that played right into their transition game. Maybe we didn't prepare enough for their high trap in the neutral zone, but it's not just that. We have to be able to make plays at both blue lines, not just chipping pucks out or chipping pucks in. We need to generate offense from the blue lines rather than just turning pucks over."
IRISH NCAA HISTORY
Notre Dame is making it's seventh NCAA Tournament appearance in the program's 46-year history with all of them coming since the 2003-04 season (`03-'04, `06-'07, `07-'08, `08-'09, `10-'11, `12-'13 and "13-'14). This will be the sixth time that a Jeff Jackson-coached Irish team has advanced in his ninth season. The last appearance came last March in the opening game of the Midwest Regional in Toledo, Ohio. In 12 NCAA games, Notre Dame is 6-6 all-time with two trips to the Frozen Four (2008, 2011).
2004 - Midwest Regional, Grand Rapids, Mich. #1 Minnesota 5, #4 Notre Dame 2A LOOK AT ST. CLOUD STATE
2007 - Midwest Regional, Grand Rapids, Mich. #1 Notre Dame 3, #4 Ala.-Huntsville 2 (2ot) #3 Michigan St. 2, #1 Notre Dame 1
2008 - West Regional, Colorado Springs, Colo. #4 Notre Dame 7, #1 New Hampshire 3 #4 Notre Dame, 3, #3 Michigan State 1
2008 - Frozen Four, Denver, Colo. #4 Notre Dame 5, #1 Michigan 4 (OT) #3 Boston College 4, #4 Notre Dame 1
2009 - Midwest Regional, Grand Rapids, Mich. #4 Bemidji State 5, #1 Notre Dame 1
2011 - Northeast Regional, Manchester, N.H. #3 Notre Dame 4, #2 Merrimack 3 (OT) #3 Notre Dame 2, #4 New Hampshire 1
2011 - Frozen Four, St. Paul, Minn. #3 Minnesota Duluth 4, #4 Notre Dame 3
2013 - Midwest Regional, Toledo, Ohio #4 St. Cloud State 5, #1 Notre Dame 1
The Huskies are making their 10th appearance in the NCAA Tournament and their second consecutive after advancing to the Frozen Four last year where they fell to Quinnipiac in the semifinals, 4-1. St. Cloud State has appeared in the tournament in 1989, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2013. The Huskies own a 3-10 mark in previous NCAA contests.
This season, St. Cloud State was 21-10-5 on the year and 15-6-3-0 in the NCHC, winning the conference's first-ever regular-season title. That marks the second year in a row that St. Cloud claimed a regular-season title, as they were the WCHA champions in 2012-13.
Head coach Bob Motzko is in his ninth season behind the Huskies bench and is a 1987 graduate of St. Cloud State. In nine seasons, he owns a 183-135-40 record and was the NCHC coach of the year in 2014. He also has a pair of WCHA coach of the year honors to his credit, winning them in 2006 and 2007.
Leading the St. Cloud State attack is senior forward, team captain and Hobey Baker Candidate Nic Dowd who tied for the team lead in scoring with 21 goals and 18 assists for 39 points. He was a first team all-NCHC selection for the 2013-14 campaign and was named the NCHC Student-Athlete of the Year and the conference's Defensive Forward of the Year. Also scoring 20 goals for the Huskies this season was sophomore Jonny Brodzinski with 20 goals and 19 assists to tie Dowd for the scoring lead. One point behind them was sophomore center Kalle Kossila with 13 goals and 25 assists for 38 points. In all, six players on the SCSU roster had 10 or more goals as the team scored 132 goals in 36 games for a 3.67 goals per game average that is third best in the nation.
The Huskies were lethal on the power play with 36 goals on 139 chances for a 25.9% success rate to rank third in the country in that department.
Junior goaltender Ryan Faragher played in 33 games and had a 19-8-4-1 record to go with a 2.76 goals-against average and a .906 save percentage with one shutout.
IRISH VERSUS HUSKIES
Fancy these two teams meeting for the second consecutive year in NCAA Tournament action. Last season, the Huskies handed Notre Dame a 5-1 loss in the Midwest Regional in Toledo, Ohio to end the Irish season. That win came in the 11th game between the two schools in the series history and gave St. Cloud State a 6-5-0 advantage in those 11 contests. The team's first met in the 1988-89 season, splitting a series in St. Cloud, Minn., as the Huskies won the opener, 4-3, with the Irish taking a 3-2 decision in the second game. The following year, 1989-90, the teams met four times, twice at each school. St. Cloud won three of those four meetings. They would not meet again until the 1996-97 season, playing a pair of games at the Joyce Center with the team's splitting two contests. The Irish won 5-2 with SCSU taking a 2-1 win in the second game. Prior to last year's tournament meeting, the last time they met was during the 1997-98 season with the Irish sweeping the Huskies, 4-3 in overtime and 4-1 in the second game. The teams are 3-3 at St. Cloud and 2-2 at Notre Dame. This will be the second meeting between the two schools in NCAA play with the Huskies holding a 1-0 edge.
IRISH VERSUS MINNESOTA
Notre Dame and Minnesota have met 41 times in the all-time series with the Gophers holding a 24-14-3 advantage. At Notre Dame, the Irish are 5-6-1 against Minnesota while at Minneapolis, the Irish are just 8-15-2. On neutral ice, the Irish are 1-3-0 versus the Gophers. The two teams have met once before in NCAA play - March 27, 2004 - in the opening round of the Midwest Regional at Grand Rapids, Mich., with Minnesota taking a 5-2 victory. The two teams have met twice this season at Notre Dame with the Irish taking a 4-1 win on Nov. 8 and Minnesota a 5-4 victory on Nov. 9 at the Compton Family Ice Arena.
IRISH VERSUS ROBERT MORRIS
Notre Dame and Robert Morris have met twice with both games coming during the 2006-07 season with each team winning once. The Irish played the Colonials on Jan. 5, 2007 at Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh, Pa., with Notre Dame taking a 6-2 victory. Two nights later at Notre Dame's Joyce Center, the Colonials took a 4-2 win.
JACKSON AND THE NCAAS
Irish head coach Jeff Jackson has seen his teams make the NCAA Tournament in 12 of his 15 seasons as a Division I head coach (six with Notre Dame and six with Lake Superior State). During that time, his teams own a record of 19-10 (.655) in the NCAA Tournament. That includes a 13-5 mark at Lake State and a 6-5 record at Notre Dame. Jackson also has seen his teams make it to the Frozen Four five times (1992, 1993, 1994 at LSSU and 2008 and 2011 at Notre Dame), winning twice at Lake Superior. His record in the Frozen Four is 6-3 overall.
THE COACH AND THE POSTSEASON
Notre Dame head coach Jeff Jackson has had his share of success in conference playoff games. In 15 seasons, with 14 coming as a member of the CCHA, Jackson's teams have appeared in all 15 postseasons (six at Lake Superior State and eight at Notre Dame in the CCHA and one with Notre Dame in Hockey East). During those 15 seasons, Jackson's teams are is 45-16 (.738) in conference postseason play. At Lake Superior, his teams were 24-2; while at Notre Dame, he is 21-14 (18-12 in CCHA, 3-2 in Hockey East). His teams have advanced to the finals in 12 of 15 seasons (six at LSSU and six at Notre Dame). In those 14 CCHA campaigns, his teams won seven CCHA titles (four at LSSU and three at Notre Dame).
A RETURN TO THE STATE OF HOCKEY
The Notre Dame hockey program has several ties to the state of Minnesota with three members of this year's team having the opportunity to return home to play in the Xcel Energy Center. The trio includes sophomores Steven Fogarty (Edina) and Mario Lucia (Plymouth) along with freshman defenseman Ben Ostlie (Edina). All three have played in the Xcel Energy Center as their high school teams played there in the Minnesota High School State Championships.
"I really like playing in the Xcel Energy Center," says Lucia.
"I got to play there three times in high school in the state championships. Minnesota won the NCAA Championship in 2002 there against Maine. I remember having a lot of fun there."
The Irish have had a long tradition of recruiting in Minnesota and have had a long list of players come from the State of Hockey.
"There is no question that we have a strong reputation in Minnesota, especially in Edina where we have a strong relationship," says Jeff Jackson.
"That goes way back to the days of Lefty Smith. Our relationship with Minnesota is long standing. The fact that Mario Lucia is here certainly has an impact. The success that some of our Edina kids have had - guys like Ryan Thang and Anders Lee and Steven Fogarty and we have another one coming in next year. We've had great success with those kids, but it's not just them. It's the T.J. Jindra's, the Mark Van Guilders. We've had a lot of great kids, not just great players, but great kids in this program from the state. How many of them were captains? That tells you a lot about the quality of the kids up there that we get here at Notre Dame. We get kids from Minnesota that want to play in the National Hockey League but they also want to get a degree from Notre Dame."
Another aspect of the regional for Lucia is that his father, 1982 Notre Dame alum, Don Lucia is the head coach of the top-seeded Minnesota Golden Gophers. They will face Robert Morris in the opening game on Saturday, but there is a chance that father and son could face each other for the third time this season.
"We have to take care of things against St. Cloud State on Saturday before we have a chance to play them," says Lucia.
"If you look to far ahead your season will be over. You have to take it one game at a time and that's how you can be successful. One game at a time."
The younger Lucia has talked to his father about the possibility of meeting in the State of Hockey.
"He said, the way he looked at it was that hopefully one Lucia will be in the Frozen Four," says the sophomore left wing.
"It's really nice for my family and friends because they are all right there and they can come out and watch. My mom won't have to travel to watch me and she'll be able to watch my dad, so it's nice for my family."
One advantage that Notre Dame will have in the West Regional this weekend is that they are a veteran team that has been through this before. Eleven members of the Irish roster will be making their third appearance in the NCAA Tournament and 11 others were members of last year's team. The 11 seniors on the roster advanced to the Frozen Four as freshmen in 2010-11, playing in the Xcel Energy Center against Minnesota-Duluth.
A quirky statistic that comes into play when Notre Dame has played in the NCAA Tournament the last six times is that when the Irish are a No. 1 seed, they haven't made it out of the regional (2007, 2009, 2013) while when they have been a lower seed they have had success. Notre Dame was a No. 4 seed in 2008 when the Irish advanced to the Frozen Four in Denver, Colo., and were a third seed in 2011. Does that mean the Irish play better as an underdog?
"We seem to have proved that over the last couple of weeks," says Irish senior center T.J. Tynan.
"We've played well the last month or so, going on the road. We especially played well at BC. I know that we will have a big crowd in Minnesota, especially with St. Cloud and potentially Minnesota there. We are fine with that, we like being the underdog. We kind of enjoy the fans being all over us."