Notre Dame hockey going to Albany Regional as No. 3 seed

John Fineran
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND – Division I college hockey’s two fighting NDs will renew an old rivalry from their Western Collegiate Hockey Association days in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament Thursday in Albany, N.Y.

Coach Jeff Jackson’s No. 9 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (27-11-0), seeded third in the regional bracket, will play coach Brad Berry’s No. 5 North Dakota Fighting Hawks (24-13-1), the No. 2 seed, at 6 p.m. in the MVP Arena. The game is the second of the day following the noon opener between No. 1 Minnesota State (35-5-0) and No. 17 Harvard (21-10-3). Both games will be televised on ESPNU.

The MVP Arena was supposed to be the site for Notre Dame’s opening game in the 2021 NCAA Tournament against Boston College, but the game was never played as Notre Dame was forced to withdraw because of positive COVID-19 tests.

“It was the end of our season, unfortunately,” Jackson said. “We’re excited to be back in the tournament and to play for a national championship.”

Notre Dame had coach Jeff Jackson during the Notre Dame vs. Ohio State NCAA hockey game Friday, Dec. 3, 2021 at the Compton Family Ice Arena in South Bend.

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It will be Notre Dame’s sixth straight NCAA tournament bid, one less than Minnesota Duluth which ended Notre Dame’s last two NCAA Frozen Fours with victories, including 2-1 in the 2018 championship game in Saint Paul, Minnesota. It is Notre Dame’s 13th NCAA tournament berth and its 12th for Jackson, who is in his 17th season at Notre Dame after winning a pair of NCAA titles at Lake Superior State in the 1990s.

But the Fighting Irish are still looking for their first NCAA title, while the Fighting Hawks will be seeking their ninth in their 33rd tournament appearance. North Dakota, which last won in 2016, and Notre Dame have never met during the NCAA tournament but have played 37 previous times, mostly as WCHA rivals in the 1970s, with each team winning 17 times and three other games ending in ties. The last meetings between the two teams came during the 2012-13 season when they split a series at the Compton Family Ice Arena.

“I have seen (North Dakota) on TV a few times,” Jackson said. “I haven’t per se scouted them, but I watched them the other night (Friday) against Western Michigan (in a 4-2 loss in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference Tournament semifinals). They’ve always been a strong, hard-on-the-puck type of team; they have some elite-level players. I’m not sure what (Jake) Sanderson’s status is, but he’s an elite defenseman, maybe the best in the country.”

Sanderson, a sophomore, has played in just 23 of the Fighting Hawks’ 38 games this season because of injuries – he missed the NCHC tournament – but still has managed to score 26 points on 8 goals and 18 assists. Sanderson is third in scoring behind sophomore forward Riese Gaber (15-22-37) and senior forward Connor Ford (4-24-28). Senior goaltender Zach Driscoll has a 2.36 average with a 22-10-1 record.

The eight-school NCHC is arguably the best hockey conference in the country and will be represented in this year’s NCAA tournament by regular-season co-champions North Dakota and Denver (the No. 1 seed in the Loveland Regional), Western Michigan (the No. 1 seed in the Worcester Regional), postseason tourney champion Duluth (No. 2 seed in Loveland) and St. Cloud State (No. 3 seed at Allentown).

Notre Dame is one of three Big Ten teams receiving tournament bids. League tournament champion Michigan is the overall No. 1 seed in the tournament and playing in the Allentown Regional, while regular-season champion Minnesota is the No. 2 seed at Worcester.

The Irish, who have been off since their 2-1 setback at eventual champion Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals, have used the break to get over a case of the flu bug and to mend some nagging injuries from the last month and a half of the season.

“Obviously we’d have liked to have played for a Big Ten championship,” Jackson said. “The week off in some ways might have helped us. Over the last couple of weeks, we had a total of 12 guys either get the flu, and we had other issues going on. We gave them a couple of days off, but we had a really good scrimmage (Saturday) to simulate the competitive environment we missed out on by not playing.”

The Minnesota State Mavericks, the No. 2 overall seed behind top-seed Michigan, earned their spot as the CCHA champion with a 2-1 overtime victory over Bemidji State Saturday night. The Harvard Crimson, meanwhile, played their way into the tournament by beating No. 6 Quinnipiac 3-2 in the ECAC Championship Game Saturday at Lake Placid, N.Y. That Crimson victory knocked Ohio State, which finished fourth in the Big Ten, out of tournament consideration.

Thursday’s two winners return Saturday to play for the regional title at 4 p.m. with that winner earning a spot in the Frozen Four semifinals at Boston’s TD Garden April 7.

NCAA DIVISION I MEN’S CHAMPIONSHIP

ALBANY, N.Y.  REGIONAL (MVP Arena)

Thursday, March 24 semifinals

(2) Minnesota State (35-5-0) vs. Harvard (21-10-3), 12 p.m. (ESPNU)

North Dakota (24-13-1) vs. Notre Dame (27-11-0), 6 p.m. (ESPNU)

Saturday, March 26 championship

Semifinal winners, 4 p.m. (ESPNU)

LOVELAND, COLO.  REGIONAL (Budweiser Events Center)

Thursday, March 24 semifinals

Minnesota Duluth (21-15-4) vs. Michigan Tech (21-12-3), 3 p.m. (ESPNU)

(4) Denver (27-9-1) vs. UMass Lowell (21-10-3), 9 p.m. (ESPNU)

Saturday, March 26 championship

Semifinal winners, 6:30 p.m. (ESPNU)

ALLENTOWN, PA. REGIONAL (PPL Center)

Friday, March 25 semifinals

(1) Michigan (29-9-1) vs. American International (22-12-3), 3 p.m. (ESPNU)

Quinnipiac (31-6-3) vs. St. Cloud State (18-14-4), 8 p.m. (ESPNews)

Sunday, March 27 championship

Semifinal winners, 6:30 p.m. (ESPN2)

WORCESTER, MASS. REGIONAL (DCU Center)

Friday, March 25 semifinals

(3) Western Michigan (25-11-1) vs. Northeastern (25-12-1), 12 p.m. (ESPN2)

Minnesota (24-12-0) vs. Massachusetts (22-12-2), 6 p.m. (ESPNU)

Sunday, March 27 championship

Semifinal winners, 4 p.m. (ESPN2)

BOSTON FROZEN FOUR (TD Garden)

Thursday, April 7 semifinals

Albany Regional winner vs. Loveland Regional winner, 5 p.m. (ESPN2)

Allentown Regional winner vs. Worcester Regional winner, 8:30 p.m. (ESPN2)

Saturday, April 9 championship

Semifinal winners, 8 p.m. (ESPN2)

NCAA DIVISION I WOMEN’S CHAMPIONSHIP

UNIVERSITY PARK, PA. FROZEN FOUR (Pegula Ice Arena)

Sunday, March 20 championship

Ohio State 3, Minnesota Duluth 2

COLLEGE HOCKEY MEN’S TOURNAMENTS

BIG TEN / Minneapolis (Minn.) 3M Arena at Mariucci

Saturday, March 19 championship

Michigan 4, Minnesota 3

CCHA / Mankato (Minn.) Mayo Clinic Health System Event Center

Saturday, March 19 championship

Minnesota State 2, Bemidji State 1 (OT)

ECAC / Lake Placid (N.Y.) 1980 Rink in Herb Brooks Arena

Saturday, March 19 championship

Harvard 3, Quinnipiac 2 (OT)

ATLANTIC / Utica (N.Y.) Memorial Auditorium

Saturday, March 19 championship

American International 7, Air Force 0

HOCKEY EAST / Boston (Mass.) TD Garden

Saturday, March 19 championship

Massachusetts 2, Connecticut 1 (OT)

NCHC / Saint Paul (Minn.) Xcel Energy Center

Saturday, March 19 championship

Minnesota-Duluth 3, Western Michigan 0

NCAA HOCKEY

Who: Notre Dame (27-11-0) vs. North Dakota (24-13-1)

What: Albany (N.Y.) Regional semifinal at MVP Arena

When: Thursday at 6 p.m.

Winner: Plays Minnesota State-Harvard winner in Saturday’s championship for trip to Frozen Four semifinals April 7 at Boston’s TD Garden

Watch: ESPNU

Waves: WZOC-FM (94.3) and UND.com