The Big Ten hockey conference was met with plenty of hatred and doubt. But, in year four the conference has proven to be a force to be reckoned with on the national stage.
As the Frozen Four weekend got underway on Thursday night, three Big Ten teams were in the mix. Ohio State took on Minnesota-Duluth, while Michigan and Notre Dame clashed. Yes, that is three quarters of the national semi-finals populated by Big Ten teams.
So much for the narrative that the Big Ten hockey conference would never be able to keep up nationally. That’s especially the case when you see traditional names like Minnesota and Wisconsin not in the mix at all in this 2018 NCAA tournament.
But, back to the point at hand. Getting three teams in to the Frozen Four is certainly a step in the right direction. That is especially so for a former also-ran like Ohio State.
It was the first ever appearance for the Buckeyes in the Frozen Four, while Michigan and Notre Dame are no strangers to national success.
However, as we head to the championship game on Saturday, only one of the Big Ten teams remain. Minnesota-Duluth took out the Buckeyes in a narrow 2-1 contest, while Notre Dame needed all 60 minutes to take home a thrilling 4-3 victory over Big Ten foe Michigan.
The Irish scored the game-winning goal with just 3.7 seconds left in the third period as it appeared the game was heading in to overtime.
It meant the No. 2 overall seed in the 2018 tournament would take on a third-seed out of the West regional. But, it also means that someone’s streak of one-goal wins is going to come to an end.
Both UMD and Notre Dame have gotten to the national title game by narrow margins in the tournament. UMD has posted wins of 3-2 (over Minnesota State), 2-1 (over Air Force) and the 2-1 win over Ohio State. ND posted wins of 4-3 (over Michigan Tech), 2-1 (over Providence) and the 4-3 win over Michigan.
So, how do you separate two teams who have gotten to the same point in exactly the same fashion? One big way is to take a look at the rosters and the leadership of the two teams. This could be where the Irish have their biggest advantage.
It has been that leadership group, that group of captains that has stepped up in the big moments all season long.
“They’ve been incredible all year; there’s a reason why they’re captains,” coach Jeff Jackson said of Jake Evans and Andrew Oglevie specifically. “When you get to this time of year you rely on your upperclassmen to be there at the most important times of the game. That’s what great players do.”
Perhaps the biggest testament to the leadership and work ethic of the team is the fact that the Irish have gotten here with just four players who have double-digit goals on the season. Oglevie and Cal Burke lead the team with just 13 goals each.
It’s been a true team effort all the way around for the Irish, and in a one-off situation it has proven to be exactly that type of team atmosphere and trust in each other that has mattered. With one game to go, can it be done once again?
Don’t be surprised to see it happen, as the Irish have been one of the most dominant teams in college for large swaths of the season. Winning the national championship would be a fitting end to a dominant season overall for the Irish.
It just would be really ironic that it took the addition of Notre Dame for the Big Ten to get its first champion in hockey as a conference-sponsored sport. But, as this tournament has proven, the Big Ten is making its mark on college hockey in a powerful way.
While the smaller schools may not like it, the Big Ten’s thoughts on making the sport part of the conference have begun to really be proven right. Let’s just see if Notre Dame can put that final piece of the puzzle together for the Big Ten’s plans.