Notre Dame Hockey Overview
The 2020-2021 Notre Dame hockey season ended in the heartbreaking fashion that only a pandemic could induce: a COVID-19 outbreak that forced the team to pull out of the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The Irish had fought hard to get into the tournament, only for their season to end without ever stepping back on the ice. However, college sports achieved a greater sense of normalcy this season, and that was no different for the Irish at the Compton Family Ice Arena. While masks were required, the hockey band returned in full force, often taunting the opposing team’s goalie, and the student section roared back to life.
Notre Dame’s schedule posed many challenges this season. While smaller-name schools tend to have success in college hockey (St. Cloud State, Bemidji State, and Lake Superior State all reached the NCAA Tournament last year), the Big Ten conference schedule Notre Dame faces includes many highly regarded opponents. Most notably, conference rivals Minnesota and Michigan were ranked No. 2 and No. 4 in the final poll of the regular season, respectively.
Nonetheless, the Irish looked to make a sixth straight NCAA Tournament appearance. The Irish jumped out to a 4-1 start in non conference play to begin the season, their only loss coming in overtime to RIT, who they bounced back against with a 6-0 win the following day.
In the Big Ten, hockey teams play each other four times during the season, twice at home and twice on the road. Notre Dame fared well in these conference meetings. The team that gave the Irish the most trouble was Minnesota, who took three out of the four matchups. Additionally, the Irish split the four matchups with Ohio State. However, the other four conference matchups saw season series victories for Notre Dame, who took three out of four from Wisconsin and Michigan State and swept the season series against Penn State and Michigan.
The sweetest of these results came against rival Michigan, who finished the regular season ranked No. 4 in the country. Additionally, two of the Notre Dame victories in this series came on senior weekend, which denied Michigan the Big Ten regular season title.
With these victories, the Irish also clinched the No. 3 seed in the Big Ten tournament and the right to host the best-of-three first round matchup against Wisconsin. After stumbling the first night in a 3-1 loss, the Irish rebounded nicely and took the next two games and the series, which set up another duel in the following round against Michigan on the road. Unfortunately, the Irish could not clinch a fifth consecutive victory over the Wolverines and fell in a 2-1 defeat to end their tournament run.
INSERT PARAGRAPH HERE ABOUT SEEDING IN NCAA TOURNAMENT (Production Night)
Notre Dame made the 16-team NCAA Tournament field and was given the No. 3 seed in the Albany Regional. After publication, the Irish battled No. 2 seed North Dakota for the right to play the winner of Harvard vs. Minnesota State in the Regional final.
If Notre Dame emerges victorious in upstate New York, the Irish will play in their fifth Frozen Four in program history at the TD Garden in Boston.
Overall, this season the Irish have been bolstered by strong team fundamentals, which is no surprise considering coach Jeff Jackson was named a finalist for Big Ten Coach of the Year in his 17th season with the program. The Irish were an impressive sixth in the country in scoring defense and eighth in faceoff win percentage. Their biggest strength, however, came with a man down. Notre Dame successfully killed 90.4% of all power plays it faced, the second best result in Division I.
Strong individual performances saw two juniors, Max Ellis and Trevor Janicke, lead the team through Big Ten tournament play with 16 and 15 goals, respectively. Additionally, senior defenseman Spencer Stastney and Nick Leivermann paced the team with 20 assists each. The Irish graduate four defensemen this year, whose replacement will be of paramount importance as Notre Dame looks to build off of this strong season and find more success in the highly-competitive Big Ten.