March 27, 2009
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The Notre Dame hockey team has arrived in Grand Rapids, Mich., for Saturday night’s NCAA Midwest Regional semifinal game against Bemidji State at Van Andel Arena. The game, which is slated to face off at 7:30 p.m. (ET), will be televised live to a national cable audience on ESPN Classic, with the Notre Dame radio broadcast, as well as live GameTracker stats (courtesy of CBS College Sports Online) available right here at UND.com.
Here’s a look at how the Fighting Irish spent Friday in Grand Rapids, preparing for their NCAA Championship opener:
- The Notre Dame travel party climbed aboard charter buses outside of Gate 4 at the Joyce Center for the two-hour drive north to Grand Rapids. As the top seed in the Midwest Region, and the No. 2 overall seed in the 16-team tournament, the Irish had the shortest distance to travel for this weekend’s Midwest Regional. Conversely, Bemidji State arrived in town around 8 p.m. (ET) Thursday following a three-hour bus ride from Bemidji and a flight to Grand Rapids. Both Cornell and Northeastern (who will meet at 4 p.m. ET in Saturday’s other semifinal) rolled into Michigan’s second-largest city just before midnight (ET) on Thursday.
- Earlier in the day, the Irish equipment crew, led by ace equipment manager Dave Gilbert, drove a fully-loaded truck to Grand Rapids, bringing everything from athletic tape to extra jerseys/sweaters to Van Andel Arena. By the time, the Notre Dame travel party arrived at the facility a little after 1 p.m. (ET), Gilbert and his intrepid staff had the entire locker room set up and ready to go for the Irish.
- Notre Dame is no stranger to NCAA Championship play in Grand Rapids, with this year’s appearance marking the third time in four NCAA tournament berths that the Irish have skated onto the ice at Van Andel Arena. In 2004, Notre Dame made its first-ever NCAA Championship appearance at the facility, falling in the Midwest Regional semifinals to Minnesota, 5-2. Two years ago, the Irish (featuring many of the current juniors and seniors) returned to Grand Rapids and won their first NCAA postseason game with a hard-fought 3-2 double-overtime win over Alabama-Huntsville. However, the extended semifinal may have sapped Notre Dame’s energy for the following night’s regional title game, as the Irish dropped a 2-1 decision to eventual national champion Michigan State.
- Van Andel Arena seats 10,834 fans for hockey and arena football, with its primary tenants being the American Hockey League’s Grand Rapids Griffins (an affiliate of the Detroit Red Wings) and the Arena Football League’s Grand Rapids Rampage. In an interesting twist (and yet another example of the far-reaching Notre Dame family), Griffins general manager Bob McNamara is a 1983 Notre Dame graduate (bachelor’s degree in economics) and was a goaltender for the Irish from 1979-83, appearing in 85 games and serving as the backup netminder for Notre Dame’s 1982 CCHA runner-up squad. McNamara subsequently signed with the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres and played for the Sabres’ AHL affiliate, the Rochester Americans. He later played for the Milwaukee Admirals and Peoria Rivermen of the now-defunct International Hockey League (IHL) before beginning his front office career as assistant general manager with the Cleveland Lumberjacks. He assumed his current post in Grand Rapids in 1996 when the franchise was added to the IHL, earning the IHL General Manager of the Year honor for getting the expansion franchise off the ground. He has since guided the Griffins through the end of the IHL era and into their current membership in the AHL (and affiliation with the Red Wings). McNamara and the Griffins’ front office staff left a warm welcome note for the Irish upon arriving in their locker room at Van Andel Arena on Saturday.
- Notre Dame players and coaches began their on-site activities at 2 p.m. (ET) with various obligations for TV partner ESPN, ranging from promotional “quick-hitters” and headshots with several players (including senior captain Erik Condra), to sit-down interviews between on-air talent Ben Holden and Sean Ritchlin and Irish personnel, including head coach Jeff Jackson. Condra’s presence was particularly notable as the veteran right wing and second-team all-CCHA selection continues his remarkable comeback after missing last year’s NCAA postseason run with a injured knee suffered late in the regular season.
- After their ESPN duties were complete, the Irish held a short team meeting in their locker room before taking the ice for a spirited one-hour open skate from 3:15-4:15 p.m. (ET). As Notre Dame departed its locker room for the practice session, and then upon its return, the Irish were alerted to the developing story in the East Regional at Bridgeport, Conn., where Notre Dame’s CCHA brethren, Michigan, fell behind Air Force (and would eventual be eliminated by the Falcons, 2-0).
- Once the Irish were done with their open skate, it was time for the media to take their turn quizzing Coach Jackson, as well as Condra and sophomore first-team all-CCHA defenseman Ian Cole. Among the assembled media members in attendance were Jake Brown of the South Bend Tribune, Irish radio broadcaster Darin Pritchett, a pair of local TV affiliates from Grand Rapids, and members of the Bemidji State radio crew (who later taped a pre-game interview with Coach Jackson).
- While Michigan fell on Friday, another CCHA squad moved on, as Miami (Ohio) ousted top-seeded Denver, 4-2 in the West Regional at Minneapolis. The Redhawks will take on Minnesota-Duluth in the regional final on Saturday (UMD ousted Princeton, 5-4 in overtime after scoring twice in the final 40 seconds of regulation to force the extra session).
- Following their media obligations, the Notre Dame travel party checked into its hotel in downtown Grand Rapids, where ironically, the Irish are joined by their semifinal opponent, Bemidji State. Notre Dame players and coaches enjoyed an early dinner before settling in for the evening.
A reminder to all Irish fans that UND.com is your source for Notre Dame hockey throughout the 2009 NCAA Championship. In addition to in-game audio and GameTracker statistics, we will have extensive video offerings from this weekend’s Midwest Regional, beginning with Friday’s open skate and media sessions. These will continue Saturday with complete post-game coverage from Van Andel Arena, including video of the team press conferences, post-game interviews from the Irish locker room (video you’ll get exclusively on UND.com), photo galleries with still shots of the in-game action against Bemidji State, as well as a complete game recap with statistics and notes.
If it’s happening with Notre Dame hockey in the postseason, you’ll be sure to find it right here on the official home for Fighting Irish athletics, UND.com.
— ND —