Notebook: Notre Dame players loose on Frozen Four eve

John Fineran
Tribune Correspondent

SAINT PAUL, Minn. – Notre Dame’s most famous buzzer-beater, Arike Ogunbowale, got a shoutout Wednesday during the Irish press conference at the Xcel Energy Center, where the men’s NCAA Division Frozen Four faces off Thursday night with No. 1 Notre Dame playing Big Ten rival Michigan.

Long-time NCAA Frozen Four conference moderator Dave Fischer said he had problems pronouncing the last name of Ogunbowale, who beat Connecticut in the semifinals and Mississippi State in the championship game last weekend to give coach Muffet McGraw her second national title.

Notre Dame senior defenseman Jordan Gross, who played his high school hockey at nearby Maple Grove, volunteered that he knew – for a good reason. Gross, a management consulting major in Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business, indicated they were classmates.

“I’m actually in a group project with her,” said Gross, who said the project was “I.T. product management.”

Irish coach Jeff Jackson looked at Gross and joked, “I’d let her do the finish.”

Impressive digs

As the top seed remaining in the tournament, the Irish were assigned the locker room of the Minnesota Wild, the usual tenants of the Xcel Energy Center. In a word, it’s impressive.

“It’s not as nice as ours, though,” Gross said, looking quickly at Jackson as fellow players Jake Evans and Cale Morris chuckled.

Loosest and loudest

When asked who the loosest player on the team was, players Evans and Morris and their coach were unanimous – senior right wing Bo Brauer, who played at nearby Edina High School and will be in the Irish lineup Thursday against the Wolverines. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound, hard-checking Brauer missed Notre Dame’s East Regional victories against Michigan Tech and Providence while allowing an upper-body injury, suffered in Notre Dame’s 3-2 overtime victory against Ohio State in the Big Ten tourney championship March 17, to recover.

“He’s the loosest, the loudest and the most energetic,” Evans said.

“Definitely Bo,” Morris said.

“I’d say that’s accurate,” said Jackson, who was then asked if Brauer trumped him. “In a big way.”

Lucia visits

Recently retired Minnesota head hockey coach Don Lucia paid a visit to Notre Dame’s bench late in Wednesday’s practice session at the Xcel Energy Center. Lucia, who played defense for late Notre Dame hockey coach Charles “Lefty” Smith from 1977-81 and whose son Mario played forward for Jackson from 2012-16, guided the Golden Gophers to back-to-back NCAA titles in 2002 and 2003, retired earlier this month with 457 victories in 19 seasons at Minnesota. Overall, Lucia fashioned a record of 722-409-110 in 31 seasons as a head coach.

Evans gets CLASS Award

Irish captain Jake Evans was named the 2018 recipient of college hockey’s Senior CLASS Award, it was announced Wednesday. The award is given annually to the hockey student-athlete who excels both on and off the ice in four areas of excellence – community, classroom, character and competition.

“"I think it is a testament to the culture our coaching staff has built here at Notre Dame, where our education and off the ice actions are all part of what it means to be a member of the Fighting Irish,” Evans said. “Being pushed by my teammates daily also contributed to winning this award and I also have to credit my parents, who instilled the values that this award honors."

Evans, a Toronto native who paces the Irish in points (42) and assists (31), was an all-Big Ten first-team selection after leading Notre Dame to both the regular-season and postseason championships in the Big Ten. He’s the second Notre Dame player to win it under Jackson – the first being goaltender David Brown in 2007.

Wilbur delays arrival

Notre Dame was greeted with single-digit temperatures and blowing snow from Winter Storm Wilbur when its charter landed at Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport at 10:15 p.m. EDT, Tuesday night.

The official party left the Compton Family Ice Center at 5:30 for South Bend International Airport for a scheduled departure at 6:30 and boarded their charter at Corporate Wings. But the weather in the Twin Cities closed the airport for a couple of hours. When it re-opened, the Irish flight left a little after 9.

Rohlik vs. Sandelin

Ohio State coach Steve Rohlik, who has the Buckeyes in only their second Frozen Four in history, spent 10 seasons as an assistant coach to Scott Sandelin at Minnesota-Duluth and just missed getting a championship ring. The Buckeyes and the Bulldogs play in Thursday’s first semifinal at 6 p.m. EDT.

When Sandelin’s Bulldogs beat Notre Dame, 4-3, in the semifinals and Michigan, 3-2 (OT) in the championship of the 2011 Frozen Four here, Rohlik had just completed his first season as the associate head coach on the staff of Ohio State head coach Mark Osiecki. Rohlik and Osiecki were players on the 1990 Wisconsin NCAA title team of late coach Jeff Sauer.

“I spent 10 unbelievable years at Duluth; Sandy gave me a chance to come up there and I certainly have great memories,” Rohlik said last week. “The hockey world is a small world no matter where you turn.”

Ohio State and Duluth knocked heads last season in the first round of the NCAA West Regional at Fargo, N.D. The Bulldogs prevailed 3-2 in overtime on their way to the Frozen Four in Chicago’s United Center where they eliminated Harvard, 2-1, but lost to Denver, 3-2, in the championship.

“I loved Rohls’ passion and intensity level,” Sandelin said of his protege. “They were the better team over the last 40 minutes last year in Fargo. We all know how good Denver can be, and (Ohio State) just nullified them (with a 5-1 victory two weekends ago to win the NCAA Midwest Regional).”

Notre Dame senior right wing Bo Brauer was pegged "the loosest, the loudest and the most energetic” in the Irish locker room for the Frozen Four that begins Thursday night. (Photo provided/FIGHTING IRISH MEDIA)