The Wolverines are hoping Notre Dame’s luck ran out last St. Patrick’s Day.
On that night in March, in the CCHA championship game, Notre Dame killed a 6-on-4 Michigan advantage with two minutes left to narrowly escape with a 2-1 victory. The Wolverines left Joe Louis Arena winless against Notre Dame for the season, going 0-3 against a team that captured both the conference tournament and the CCHA regular-season title.
Three months earlier, Notre Dame crushed the Wolverines 7-3 in a game where Michigan goalie Billy Sauer was yanked after two periods. Two days later, the Irish came back from a one-goal, third-period deficit to seal the weekend sweep.
“Last year, Notre Dame was just about unbeatable,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “Nobody was going to catch them. Notre Dame put on such a stretch run that even when we were playing well, it didn’t matter.”
This year, it’s Michigan (13-1 CCHA, 20-2 overall) that will come into its biggest series of the season to date with a nearly impeccable record. Notre Dame arrives in Ann Arbor with just two wins in its last six games.
Regardless, the outcome of the next two games could dictate the CCHA race for the rest of the season.
This weekend will be the last challenging conference test of the regular season for No. 8 Notre Dame (11-4-1, 18-7-1), which will spend the rest of its Conference schedule playing mediocre teams like Alaska, Ohio State, Ferris State and Bowling Green.
The first-ranked Wolverines still have two games against No. 2 Miami (Ohio) and four against No. 7 Michigan State before the end of the season.
Michigan has shown few weaknesses this season, and after scoring 11 goals in two games against Western Michigan last weekend, the team has focused on minimizing turnovers this week.
“I think we were taking too many chances and kind of hanging out Billy to dry, thinking he’s going to save everything they throw at him,” junior forward Travis Turnbull said. “That’s not fair to Billy and that’s not fair to the team.”
After Sauer found success skating far out of the crease to challenge Western Michigan shooters last weekend, he plans to continue playing aggressively while taking away scoring chances before they become threats.
“I know they’re going to try and crash the net quite a bit,” Sauer said. “I’m just kind of worried about my rebounds, trying to make sure I take care of that and work on it in practice.”
The Wolverines have already showed they can improve every weekend while ending historic losing streaks. A six-game slump against Minnesota. A 1-5 mark of subpar play in the Showcase. An 11-year stretch without a GLI title.
Next to those, snapping a three-game winless stretch against the Fighting Irish seems almost easy.
Sauer, who called Notre Dame his second least favorite team (behind Minnesota), said he expected the series to be an emotional one.
“We don’t really like them,” Sauer said. It’s a big weekend, and any time you play a big school . it’s more on a personal level when you play these games.”
Notre Dame at Michigan
Matchup: Notre Dame 18-7-1; Michigan 20-2
When: Tonight 8:05 P.M.
Where: Yost Ice Arena