Good afternoon from Xcel Energy Center, where the NCAA Frozen Four will begin at 5:07 p.m. with Minnesota Duluth taking on Ohio State in the first semifinal, followed by Michigan vs. Notre Dame at 8:37. Both games are on ESPN2.
The West Regional champion Bulldogs are seeking to win their second national championship – and their second at Xcel Center, where they won the title in 2011. The Midwest regional champion Buckeyes are making their second Frozen Four appearance, with the other in 1998. The teams met in last year’s West Regional semifinal in Fargo, with UMD winning 3-2 in overtime on its way to an NCAA runner-up finish.
Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin and Buckeyes coach Steve Rohlik are good friends, with Rohlik serving as an assistant coach under Sandelin at UMD from 2000-10. But it’ll be all business today.
“Scott gave me an unbelievable opportunity to learn as a coach on the ice, off the ice. Something I'll cherish obviously forever,’’ Rohlik, a St. Paul native and former Hill-Murray player and coach, said Wednesday. “But, again as the hockey world moves on, for me my whole thing is about this program, these guys. … Those friendships will never go away. But, come tomorrow night, make no exception to it that we'll be out there competing. It's Ohio State versus Duluth, not Scott versus Steve.’’
Said Sandelin: “He's a very good coach. I think he's very fiery, very passionate. You see his teams play the same way. I'm not surprised that he's done a great job. I think their team this year is better than last year in different ways. They're a little more complete team. … He’s very deserving of the opportunity to be here with his team. And it wouldn't surprise me down the road they're going to be down here more times.’’
In the second semifinal, Northeast Regional champion Michigan meets East Regional champion Notre Dame for the fourth time this season. The teams split the four games, and three of them were decided by one goal.
Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson sees a highly improved Michigan team from earlier in the year.
“They've been one of the best offensive teams in the country in the second half, and their goaltender's certainly solidified their game in the second half as well,’’ he said. “So, all in all, they're as good a team as there is left playing. So, we'll more than have our hands full.’’
Michigan junior defenseman Joseph Cecconi downplayed the Wolverines vs. Fighting Irish rivalry, instead focusing on the goal at hand.
“I think we all just want to play,’’ he said. “We can play any team right now. There are four teams left, excited to be here. Whoever comes in our path is going to be moved out of the way.’’
Today’s winners meet at 6 p.m. Saturday for the national championship, which will air on ESPN.