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What to know about Notre Dame, Boston College hockey’s first round NCAA tournament opponent

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NCAA Hockey: Big Ten Hockey Tournament-Notre Dame vs Penn State South Bend Tribune-USA TODAY NETWORK

Boston College knows its first-round opponent for the NCAA men’s hockey tournament: old rival Notre Dame.

The Irish somewhat surprisingly were picked as a 4-seed in the Albany, NY regional, after being left for dead by some prognosticators after falling in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament. Notre Dame will face off against the Eagles Saturday at 1 PM on ESPN NEWS and WatchESPN.com.

Here’s a first look at the Fighting Irish:

  • Notre Dame posted a record of 14-13-2 this year, finishing 4th in the Big Ten and bowing out in the conference quarterfinal with a 6-3 loss to Penn State.
  • Notre Dame’s selection to the tournament was largely attributed to their slightly better record against NCAA tournament teams than other bubble teams - they went 4-7-1 overall against the Big Ten’s power trio of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan.
  • It should be noted, however, that they went 0-5-1 in their last 6 games against that big three, after a solid 4-2 start.
  • After four straight winning seasons from 2015-2019, including a national title game appearance in 2018, the Irish took a step back in 2019-20, finishing 15-15-7 overall- including a two-game sweep at the hands of BC. Notre Dame brought back most of their top players from last year and expected at least some improvement, and probably are overall stronger than last year, but in a conference that appears to have gotten tougher at the top.
  • While it’s tough to compare teams across conferences, the Irish are statistically mid-pack in pretty much every major team category.
  • They were 5th of 7 Big Ten teams offensively (2.9 goals per game and 4th defensively (2.69 GA/game), while also being 5th in shots for and 3rd in shots allowed.
  • Even on special teams, Notre Dame was smack in the middle in 4th in both power play (19.2%) and penalty kill (80.8%).
  • One of the biggest storylines this year for Notre Dame was how they’d replace graduating goalie Cale Morris, who backstopped the Irish to a national title game appearance in 2018. Senior Dylan St. Cyr has largely gotten the call in net and has performed fairly well, posting a .921 save percentage and a 2.44 goals against average. In case you haven’t caught on to the trend with Notre Dame yet, both of these stats put St. Cyr right around 20th-25th in the country.
  • Junior Alex Steeves, a 5’11’’ New Hampshire native, has jumped into the role of featured scorer for the Irish, posting a 15-17—32 line to make him the sole Notre Dame name on a board of Big Ten top ten scorers that is dominated by NHL draft picks from Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota.
  • Junior defenseman Nick Leivermann, a Colorado draft pick (as are seemingly half of the exciting prospects in college hockey), has been a key cog for Notre Dame, picking up 7 power play points to lead the team, posting a +10 mark, and leading all Big Ten defensemen in shots per game.
  • Notre Dame features 9 NHL draft picks. Forward Landon Slaggert (Chicago) and defenseman Jake Boltmann (Calgary) are the top picks as third-rounders.
  • Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson is known for being a thorn in BC’s side, a reputation forged largely by a run of success against the Eagles both before and after the 2008 national championship game, as well as a shocking Hockey East quarterfinal series in which Notre Dame stymied a strong BC team in 2014. When playing at their best, Jackson’s teams have successfully deployed trapping and defensive tactics that have slowed down some great BC teams.

Despite that public perception, overall, though, the series is actually pretty even since 2008 following BC’s sweep last year - Notre Dame leads 10-9 since that battle in Denver.