Several Notre Dame hockey players return home to Minnesota for Frozen Four

John Fineran
Tribune Correspondent

What basketball is to Indiana, hockey is to Minnesota.

The hoops you see on barns across the Hoosier state are homemade hockey goals on one of the 10,000 frozen lakes and ponds of the North Star State.

Therefore, could it be any more fitting that No. 1 Notre Dame – Indiana’s representative at the men’s NCAA Frozen Four in Saint Paul, Minn., next week – is there thanks to a pair of Minnesotans who scored the game-winning goals in 27-9-2 Notre Dame’s victories over Michigan Tech and Providence at last weekend’s NCAA East Regional in Bridgeport, Conn.

First, senior defenseman Jordan Gross of Maple Grove scored at 16:24 of overtime to lift Notre Dame to a 4-3 first-round victory over the Huskies. Then, junior left wing Dylan Malmquist of Edina scored with 27.4 seconds remaining in regulation to propel the Irish to a 2-1 victory over the Friars.

Gross, Malmquist and three other Minnesotans – senior right wing Bo Brauer of Edina, senior defenseman Tony Bretzman of Mendota Heights and freshman defenseman Matt Hellickson of Rogers – will get to see the ice of the Xcel Energy Center, where the Minnesota Wild of the National Hockey League play and where the Minnesota High School State Hockey Tournament is an annual event for the city.

“It’s more about playing in it than where it’s at,” Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson said of the quintet’s homecoming. “For them, being hometown boys, yeah, it will matter.”

Gross, who has 10 goals and 28 points this season, and Malmquist, who has 9 and 19 respectively, are geeked, to say the least.

“The Xcel Energy Center is a great place to play,” said Gross, who helped Maple Grove to its first Minnesota State 2A appearance in 2012. “I’m really excited about that after playing in Chicago (at the United Center, home of the NHL Blackhawks) last year. We know what to expect this year.”

Malmquist was a teammate of Brauer at Edina, which has won 10 state titles in its storied history. The Hornets won Class 2A state titles in 2013 and ’14 on the Xcel Energy Center ice.

“I was fortunate to play there all four years,” said Malmquist, who first skated when he was “7 or 8.” “When you grow up in Minnesota, hockey is everything. It’s all about hockey.”

As participants, Gross and Malmquist are allowed six tickets, and they are leaving family members to search for the rest because they are focusing on Michigan, their semifinal opponent Thursday at 9:30 p.m. EDT (ESPN2).

“I would not know how many I actually need,” Malmquist said. “Mom was looking for around 20 but that’s not going to happen. There are going to be distractions, but we’re going to focus on what we have to do in the locker room and what we’ve done.”

“My family understands we’re going there to win,” Gross said. “There won’t be many distractions outside of that. I’ll be focused on playing the games.”

Both players feel that the Frozen Four trip last year to Chicago and the subsequent 6-1 loss to eventual NCAA champion Denver was a huge learning experience.

“We’re just going to try and focus on what we’ve got in front of us – just play the game of hockey,” said Malmquist, who had a pair of goals in Notre Dame’s 4-1 victory on Jan. 27 at Minnesota that ended a two-game scoreless streak at the hands of Wisconsin and the Gophers.

“That (the loss to Denver) is what drove us this whole season – the opportunity to get back to the Frozen Four,” Gross added.

With apologies to the late Jim Nabors, Jordan Gross and Dylan Malmquist are happy to be back home again – in Minnesota.

Fourth time the real charm?

This is the second straight visit and fourth trip to the Frozen Four for Notre Dame under Jackson, who coached a pair of NCAA championships (1992, 1994) in three trips during his six seasons as head coach at Lake Superior State.

In Jackson’s third season in South Bend, the Irish made it to the 2008 Frozen Four in Denver’s Pepsi Center where they beat Michigan 5-4 in overtime before dropping a 4-1 decision to Boston College in the championship game.

In 2011, the last time the NCAA Championship was held at the Xcel Energy Center, the Irish drew Minnesota-Duluth, which won 4-3 on its way to winning the title with a 3-2 overtime victory against Michigan.

Last season, Notre Dame dropped a 6-1 semifinal decision to eventual NCAA titlist Denver, which beat Duluth 3-2 for the championship.

Michigan's turnaround started with the Irish

First-year head coach Mel Pearson, a long-time assistant to Red Berenson at Michigan, said it was a pair of 2-1 losses to Notre Dame in a home-and-home series to start the new year that turned his team’s season around.

“They were ranked No. 1 at the time and we were .500 (8-8-2),” Pearson reflected. “We lost both games, but we played extremely well. At that point I could see the promise we had. From that weekend on, I think we’ve lost only four games. The guys really came together, and I think they were much more comfortable with myself, a new coach with maybe a little different approach and message being sent.”

Included in that 14-4-1 run to Saint Paul were wins over Notre Dame Feb. 16 in South Bend (4-2) and Feb. 18 in Ann Arbor (1-0). Goalie Hayden Lavigne, who has played every game since the new year, had 37 saves in the shutout (one more than Notre Dame’s Cale Morris) and Michigan blocked 25 other shots. Michigan has won nine of its last 10, the only setback being a 3-2 overtime loss at Ohio State in the Big Ten tourney semifinals March 10.

Notre Dame’s Dylan Malmquist (25) hits the puck in front of Penn State’s Nate Sucese during the Big Ten semifinal hockey tournament game Saturday, March 10, 2018, at Notre Dame in South Bend. Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN