University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish
1 seed vs. Bemidji State, Midwest Regional (Grand Rapids, MI)
7:30 EDT, Saturday, March 28, ESPN Classic
CCHA Regular Season Champions
CCHA Tournament Champions
Coach: Jeff Jackson (285-99-39, .708)
Notre Dame entered the season with high expectations. Making the Frozen Four as a #4 seed, and having survived a 6-5 OT game with fellow CCHA member Michigan in the National Semifinals, the Irish, playing in their first national championship game, fell to Boston College 4-1. A 3-3-0 start in October, including a sweep at the hands of Miami in South Bend, dampened enthusiasm for a bit. Then, the Irish went on an absolute tear, not losing again for 19 straight games (and winning the three shootouts it was involved in) until falling to Michigan 2-1 in South Bend on January 30. One other loss at Ohio State in their next 11 had put Notre Dame near the top of the national poll for much of the season and helped it finish five points clear of Michigan and Miami in the CCHA this season. The two games at the Joe for the CCHA semis and finals show Notre Dame's grit, getting a game winner against Northern Michigan less than 30 seconds after Northern had tied the game late in the third period, and then scoring five unanswered goals against Michigan in the CCHA Final to claim their second Mason Cup in three years.
Notre Dame's leadership clearly starts on the goal line with Alaska
native Jordan Pearce, their senior netminder. Pearce, part of
Jackson's first recruiting class at Notre Dame, patiently waited for
his shot behind David Brown (he of the 30-6-3 record in 2006-07 when
Notre Dame was the #1 seed in Grand Rapids only to be upset by MSU) and
has been stellar between the pipes for the Irish. Pearce has been
nearly impossible to pierce, allowing just 58 goals all season and
posting eight shutouts. While Notre Dame can score, they do not
need to very often with Pearce between the pipes. (By the way, a personal rant here
for a moment: While Alaska's Chad Johnson has been a lot of the
reason for Alaska's turnaround this year (a .939 save percentage is
pretty exceptional even if Johnson is just .500 on the season), did the
CCHA voters decide that Michigan State's Jeff Lerg deserved a lifetime
achievement award for his 9-20-3, 2.94 GAA senior campaign? I
realize that goalies are not just about wins and losses, but Pearce's
exclusion from the first two all-CCHA teams this year is mildly
unfathomable. OK, rant over.)
Housing Starts. Notre Dame hockey will receive a major boost in 2011-12 when a brand new on-campus area will replace the Joyce Center, it of the "pay no attention to that hockey team behind the curtain" as the home of Irish hockey. A two sheet facility (one Olympic), coach Jeff Jackson's efforts in turning the Irish into perennial contenders in hockey have helped open the checkbooks of potential donors for this new facility.
Losing Lockert. The Irish lost their radio voice of seven years this season when Mike Lockert passed away at the age of 44. A radio veteran, Lockert's affiable style was widely commented upon, as was the rarity of an African-American play-by-play voice for college hockey.
Awkwardly Phrased. Last season, the Detroit Red Wings' Brett Lebda became the first "Notre Dame player to skate in the CCHA" to win the Stanley Cup. This also means he is the first "Notre Dame player to skate in the CCHA to win the Stanley Cup to drop the Cup at Cheli's Chili Bar and cause a significant dent to the Cup."
(By the way, some research indicates that Bill Nyrop, who won three Cups with Montreal in the 1970s, was the first Notre Dame player to win the Stanley Cup. He played at ND before they joined the CCHA)