March 21, 2004
Notre Dame, Ind. – For the first time in the 36-year history of the Notre Dame hockey program, the Irish are going to the NCAA tournament.
The Irish were named to the 16-team NCAA field on Sunday afternoon and will face the defending national champion Minnesota Golden Gophers in the Midwest regional in Grand Rapids, Mich. Minnesota, the top-seeded team in the region and the fourth-seed in the field, will face off against fourth-seeded Notre Dame at Van Andel Arena on Saturday, March 27 in a 12:00 noon game. The second-seeded Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs will face number-three seed Michigan State at 3:30 p.m. The two winners then play on Sunday, March 28 at 1:00 p.m., with that winner going on to the Frozen Four in Boston, April 8-10.
Notre Dame finished the 2003-04 season with a 20-14-4 record and was fifth in the CCHA regular season. The Irish lost a 6-5 overtime decision in the quarterfinals of the CCHA Super Six. Minnesota was 26-13-3 on the regular season and tied for fourth in the regular season. The Gophers won the WCHA Final Five on Saturday night with a 5-4 win over top-ranked North Dakota.
The Irish watched the tournament announcement on ESPN2 and got a chance to celebrate on national television.
“It’s just tremendous. It’s a different feeling from when you are a player and you go to the next level. The best part was watching their (the players) reaction,” said head coach Dave Poulin.
“I’m glad that they (ESPN) didn’t come to me right after the announcement. I was a little emotional. I’m glad I had like a minute between the team’s reaction and when I had to speak.
Making his first trip to the NCAA’s as either a player or a coach, Poulin reflected on the program’s history and two of his former coaches.
“I thought of all the time and energy that has been expended over the years. I look back to Lefty Smith, who I played for and Ric Schafer who was his assistant and then the next head coach and all the work they put in over the years. The great teams we had in the early 70’s and late 70’s and the early 80’s that never achieved this. My first thoughts went out to all of them for all the work that they put in. I know this will be a proud day for both of them.”
The Irish players were also excited about getting the opportunity to keep playing this season.
“I’m really excited. It’s been a goal of the program for a long time. It’s great to be a part of the team that finally made it happen,” said senior captain Aaron Gill.
“I really had a bad feeling after losing to Ohio State (at the CCHA Super Six). At that point we had control of where we wanted to goal and lost it, but it worked out the way we wanted it to.,” added the Rochester, Minn., native.
Alternate captain Neil Komadoski emphasized the how important getting to the NCAA’s is for him and the Irish hockey program.
“Importance-wise, it’s the most important thing that’s ever happened in my life so far,” said Komadoski.
“It’s my fourth year here and ever since I stepped on this campus, it’s been a goal of ours to make it to this tournament and win a national championship. This is a big step in that direction. This is unbelievable.”
Playing Minnesota has a couple of interesting twists also. Poulin and Minnesota head coach Don Lucia were teammates at Notre Dame for three seasons from 1978-81.
Notre Dame’s senior class opened their careers versus the Gophers on Oct. 7, 2000 at the annual Hall of Fame game. The Irish lost that contest, 7-3, in the last meeting between the two schools. Now as their careers near an end, the Gophers are the opponents again.
“Our seniors have come full circle. They opened their careers versus Minnesota and now they get another shot at them. And now they are the two-time defending national champions, but that’s what you want. That’s why you play the game. You always want a chance to face the best,” added Poulin.
Tickets for the Grand Rapids Regional are $60.00 for the three-game package and can be purchased via Ticketmaster at (616) 456-3333. Details on ticket availability at the Joyce Center will be announced later.