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Irish Return to CCHA Play with Road Series against Michigan

Nov 16, 2012, 12:51 PM EDT

I’m going to preface this blog by saying what perhaps many Notre Dame students say on a regular basis, but it’s important to get it out there.

From their sea of yellow to their fight song, few things bring me greater joy than beating Michigan. I don’t care if it’s in hockey, football, or badminton.

And for that reason, no games over the course of the hockey season enrapture me quite like Michigan. If, like me, the Wolverine is not your favorite animal, this weekend’s games should excite. Tonight and Friday the Irish take on one of their biggest rivals in legendary Yost Arena, and it’s likely they remember the last time they were there.

(Update: The Irish got off to a good start in the series with a 3-1 victory on Thursday night).

In the second round of the best-of-three CCHA playoffs last year in Yost, goaltender Steven Summerhays was at the losing end of an 83-minute marathon that ended with a 2-1 score in double overtime. Michigan’s 3-1 victory the next night sealed the series and ended the Irish season.

“Obviously, it’s in the back of my mind, being there last year,” Summerhays said. “They’re the team that eliminated us from the CCHA playoffs and NCAA hopes, so it’s definitely in the back of our minds. But at the same time, it’s a new season.”

The Irish are 6-3 on the new season, with losses to #13 Minnesota-Duluth, #11 Western Michigan, and #1 Boston College. Those defeats came in a current brutal stretch of 11 games against ranked teams. Seventh-ranked Notre Dame is 4-3 so far in these games – with Michigan this weekend and North Dakota at home next week.

“I like playing tough teams. It’s about the journey. It’s about making sure that we’re playing tough opponents to make us better. As long as we can do that without losing confidence, it ends up being a real positive thing,” head coach Jeff Jackson said. “We just have to hold our own on the road and take care of business at home, and that’s the biggest thing. We go into this weekend with the idea that we need to come out with points.”

Jackson’s team has its work cut out for it at Yost Arena, where Michigan is notoriously tough, having won five of its last six against the Irish. The Wolverines are 42-23-3 all-time against Notre Dame at home.

“It’s very tough to play there. They have great fans – it’s loud with all the chants. And they just really take advantage of home ice,” Summerhays said. “They come out hard and play a different style at home than they do on the road. They really want to apply pressure to you, and it makes it tough to do stuff in there.”

This weekend will be the last time (at least during the regular season) the Irish will play in Yost as a conference foe. With the formation of the Big Ten hockey conference and the end of the CCHA, the two teams will not meet in conference play after this season.

It’s a sad moment for Notre Dame’s oldest rivalry, which dates back to 1921 and features 130 matchups. While the Irish trail the all-time series 74-51-5, the rivalry has picked up in intensity since Jackson’s arrival in 2005. Most notably, Notre Dame defeated the Wolverines (the #1 overall seed) in overtime to reach the national championship game in 2008.

“There’s so much tradition between the two schools that I’m sure we’ll play them every year even though we’re going [to Hockey East],” Summerhays said. “Being the last conference series in the Yost, that will be something special to take away with.”

If Summerhays is right, conference realignment shouldn’t at all get in the way of the series with Michigan. Now we just need to get those badminton teams going…

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