DENVER – Seniors Kevin Porter and Chad Kolarik, along with the rest of the Michigan hockey team’s freshman-laden roster, will skate onto the ice for their first Frozen Four appearance tonight.

But beyond the expected hype, there’s something strangely familiar about the game.

The opponent.

The Wolverines square off against Notre Dame for the third time this season after topping the Fighting Irish in both games of a Jan. 18-19 series.

“They’re a hot team right now, and they’re going to want us really bad after what we did to them in the first two games,” freshman Louie Caporusso said.

Caporusso could be the reason for Notre Dame’s added motivation.

In the series’ lone game at Yost Ice Arena, Caporusso broke a tension-filled tie with just 20 seconds remaining on the clock. The Wolverines outworked Notre Dame’s staunch defense to tally three unanswered goals over the course of the game and complete a 3-2 comeback.

Michigan coach Red Berenson remembers the game fondly, but the team can’t dwell on it tonight.

“It was a great game, but we can’t live on that game,” Berenson said. “I mean, it was months ago. We have to have our best game. They’re a different team now.”

In fact, Notre Dame might just be the hottest team in the country.

After squeaking into the NCAA Tournament following a lackluster showing in the CCHA Playoffs, the Irish upset both New Hampshire and Michigan State to advance to the program’s first Frozen Four.

“Whatever they’re doing, it’s working,” defenseman Chris Summers said. “A lot of people on the outside are saying it’ll be kind of a walk to the final game, but that’s not the mindset we have as a team.”

Michigan’s biggest concern tonight is figuring out a way to crack the Irish defense. Notre Dame boasts big, strong defensemen who make it hard for opposing teams to find scoring chances, let alone goals.

To combat the defensive pressure, freshman Carl Hagelin said the Wolverines will work on getting the puck deep and keeping it in the Irish zone for as long as possible. If Michigan can wear down the Notre Dame blueliners, scoring chances will come easier.

But even if the Wolverines can successfully outplay the Irish defense, junior Jordan Pearce has been solid in net all year long.

“We’ve got to keep our composure,” Caporusso said. “I mean, their goalie’s hot right now. You never know – you can run into a hot goalie in the first period. You just have to stay persistent and stay patient and persevere.”

While everyone on the team agrees Michigan will have a tough time inside the Notre Dame zone, there are differing opinions about whether playing a familiar opponent is advantageous or not.

Berenson said both teams will come in knowing what to expect, so neither the Wolverines nor the Irish have an extra edge. Some of the players think differently.

“I preferably would like to play a team that I’ve played before,” Caporusso said. “You know what they’re about. You know what they look like. You can visualize better what you’re going to see on the ice.”

Hagelin said he didn’t think the familiarity would make such a difference.

“It doesn’t matter for me,” he said. “Going up against a certain defenseman, you might know he’s a bad backwards skater or something like that. Otherwise, it’s the playoffs, man. It’s a new game every time.”

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