College men's hockey: Defending champion Bulldogs understand, but have no sympathy for runners-up from Notre Dame
If anyone has any sympathy for what Notre Dame has gone through in the past six months since losing the national championship game at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, it's the team that beat them 2-1 back in April -- Minnesota Duluth.
If anyone has any sympathy for what Notre Dame has gone through in the past six months since losing the national championship game at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, it's the team that beat them 2-1 back in April - Minnesota Duluth.
After all, the Bulldogs were in the Fighting Irish's skates a year ago as the national runners-up after losing to Denver in the 2017 NCAA title game. They played the Pioneers five times and lost every one.
So, do the Bulldogs have a speck of sympathy for the Irish?
"I understand what they are going through, but I wouldn't say sympathy," UMD senior captain Parker Mackay said. "I wouldn't have wanted us to be in that situation again like we were the year before."
Top-ranked Notre Dame (3-0-1) will have a chance this weekend to get off its chest whatever it still feels about third-ranked Minnesota Duluth (4-1-1) during a national championship rematch at 6 p.m. Friday and 4:05 p.m. Saturday at Compton Family Ice Arena in South Bend, Ind.
This weekend is the first of three straight series the Irish have against the 2018 NCAA Frozen Four participants. They open Big Ten play the next two weeks against Ohio State and at Michigan.
Irish coach Jeff Jackson, a two-time NCAA championship coach at Lake Superior State who is still searching for his first national title at Notre Dame, said he hasn't really talked to his players about the significance of this weekend's series beyond that it's against a good opponent.
But Jackson is no fool. He knows his players are well aware of who they are facing this weekend.
"I'm not trying to blow it out of proportion," Jackson said of the rematch. "If the kids are energized by it, great. I'm not making a big deal out of it because it's October. It's a big series because it's Duluth and Notre Dame - two of the top programs in the country.
"I try to avoid talking about last year as much as possible. But hey, they're on the Internet. They read the news. I don't need to bring it up. I'm sure they are aware of it."
Student-athletes from Notre Dame weren't made available for phone interviews with the News Tribune this week to talk about the series. Events and business school night exams were cited as reasons interviews couldn't be worked out.
No matter. All one has to do is ask the Bulldogs what it was like to face the Pioneers over and over again last season. Nine players still remain on UMD's roster from the 2016-17 squad that lost to Denver in the championship game at United Center in Chicago, including four - Nick Wolff, Riley Tufte, Billy Exell and Mackay - who played in the 3-2 defeat.
Every one of them said the games against Denver were circled on their calendar a year ago, and while you can't get revenge for a national championship loss by winning a regular-season game or series, that's what the Bulldogs wanted.
"We wanted to come ready to play that game and kick the crap out of them," Tufte said.
"A little piss and vinegar, like you owe them something," Wolff said, describing his feelings in the rematches against Denver last year. "You don't forget about what happened the year before."
"You don't want to lose again," Exell said. "You don't want to get on a streak like we lost to Denver a couple times. You don't want to continue losing. You want to go out there and prove that maybe if there was a series, it could have went another way."
Wolff said, based on how he felt a year ago during the first rematch against Denver in early December in Duluth, he expects the Irish to come out firing during the opening 20 minutes Friday. It's a storm the Bulldogs will have to weather, he said.
While UMD returns 19 of 26 players from last year, including 15 of the 19 who played in the title game, Notre Dame has 18 of 28 players back, including 12 of the 19 who played against UMD in St. Paul.
Jackson said his team is in a bit of a rebuilding mode after back-to-back Frozen Four appearances, but when you hear him describe this rebuild he speaks of, it kind of sounds a lot like what the Bulldogs went through in 2017-18.
The Irish have nine freshmen on the roster, including four defensemen. They've been playing three of the rookies on the blue line.
"I'm not going to cry," Jackson said about his defensemen. "Duluth had how many in the lineup last year?"
Five, Jeff. Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin played five freshman defensemen a year ago. He also had to replace his top two centermen from 2016-17, and wouldn't you know it? That's what the Irish had to do this offseason.
Where the two teams diverge sharply is in goal. Unlike the 2017-18 Bulldogs, the 2018-19 Irish get their all-star goaltender back in Cale Morris.
And while Notre Dame has come out firing offensively in its first four games, outscoring the competition 21-9, Jackson said he does not believe that kind of output is sustainable. That's why Notre Dame needs another stellar season from Morris, the 2017-18 Mike Richter Award winner, if it wants to reach a third consecutive Frozen Four and become the fourth consecutive team to lose in a Frozen Four one year and win the NCAA title the next.
"Anytime you have a great goalie, that starts the whole process," Jackson said. "Like any coach, you like to build your team up the guts of the ice. It starts with your goaltender. You solidify your defense and then it's your centermen. Cale is the backbone of our team. He was last year. I don't anticipate that's going to change much this year."
NO. 3 UMD (4-1-1) at NO. 1 NOTRE DAME (3-0-1)
What: Nonconference series
When: 6 p.m. Friday, 4:05 p.m. Saturday
Where: Compton Family Ice Arena, South Bend, Ind.
TV: NBC Sports Network Friday/My9 Saturday
Radio: KDAL 610 AM/103.9 FM
Internet: www.nbcsports.com/live (video)
Fast facts: The Bulldogs and Irish have met in at least one game each of the past eight seasons going back to the 2011 NCAA Frozen Four semifinals in St. Paul. Going back to the 2010-11 season, UMD holds a 7-4-2 advantage over Notre Dame.