Back in the NCAA Tournament, Michigan to face Notre Dame in first round

Sunday, March 20, 2016 - 1:35pm

Red Berenson's team will play in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2012.

Red Berenson's team will play in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2012. Buy this photo
James Coller/Daily

 

The Michigan hockey team is back where it was for 22 straight seasons prior to the 2012-13 season: the NCAA Tournament.

Friday night, the Wolverines, a No. 2 seed in the Midwest Regional, will take on No. 3 seed Notre Dame, while No. 1 seed North Dakota and No. 4 seed Northeastern round out the regional in Cincinnati.

The selection comes a day after Michigan captured the Big Ten Tournament title, defeating Minnesota, 5-3, in St. Paul, Minn.

“Coach said Cincinnati has been good to Michigan,” said junior forward Tyler Motte, “so we have to be good to Cincinnati.”

Just the three seniors on the current roster have ever played against the Fighting Irish. Senior goaltender Steve Racine recalled a conversation from just after the selection show, when he talked with fellow senior Justin Selman about how the Wolverines haven’t defeated Notre Dame during their careers.

Michigan will enter the tournament with the nation’s best offense, tallying 4.89 goals per game, with the next closest team putting up 4.28 goals a game.

The Wolverines also boast the nation’s most prolific forward line — the CCM line — consisting of freshman Kyle Connor and juniors JT Compher and Motte. The trio ranks first, second and third in the nation in points, respectively. Connor leads the country in points with 69, while Compher and Motte hold 60 and 54, respectively.

But Berenson doesn’t think Notre Dame will be fazed.

“(Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson) is an experienced coach,” Berenson said. “He has played against Michigan teams before, and Michigan teams that have had offensive histories and they’ll figure it out. They’re a team that will come at you and play their game.”

Notre Dame, meanwhile, is led by goaltender Cal Petersen, who boasts a .928 save percentage and 2.19 goals-against average.

Michigan and Notre Dame haven’t played since the formation of the Big Ten Hockey Conference in 2013-14.

“Notre Dame is one of our old, I wouldn’t say rivals, but borderline rival,” Berenson said. “(Notre Dame coach) Jeff Jackson is as good of a coach there is in college hockey and his teams show that every year. They’re disciplined, hard-working, well-coached and I think you’ll see a close hockey game.”

When they last met, though, the stakes were high. The old-time rivals were pitted in the CCHA Tournament Championship. If Michigan had won, it would have moved onto the NCAA Tournament. Instead, Notre Dame took the title and ended the Wolverines’ season.

Michigan’s goaltender in that game was then-freshman Steve Racine, who wasn’t the team’s starter the majority of that season.

He hasn’t forgotten that moment.

“I just remember that they were really strong and physical and we had problems with that, and they kind of took it to us a little bit,” Racine said. “But we haven’t seen them in a couple of years, so I couldn’t tell you much about them yet. But we’ll be ready.

“Just like Minnesota beat us last year in the Big Ten Championship, Notre Dame, my freshman year, ended the streak. Getting back at them would be nice.”

Racine added that Notre Dame, like Penn State and Minnesota who have ended the Wolverines’ seasons that past two seasons, respectively, is another team that Michigan “owes” — all because of that CCHA Tournament Championship.

So 1,096 days after that crushing defeat, Racine and Michigan will have a chance at revenge.

And this time it’ll be in the tournament that matters most.