Now that Notre Dame Fighting Irish fans have the BCS National Championship game in their rear view mirror, their focus can now turn to their men’s hockey team that will take on the Golden Gophers in a rare Tuesday night match up.
The Irish come to Minneapolis as the No. 2 ranked team in the nation and will bring with them four Minnesotans on the team. Most notable, Mario Lucia, son of Minnesota head coach Don Lucia.
Coaching a son at Mariucci Arena isn’t anything new for Don — his oldest son Anthony (Tony) skated for the Maroon and Gold for four seasons between 2006 and 2010. This time, it will be Don’s first chance to coach against one of his sons.
Mario chose to follow in his father’s footstep and play for the Fighting Irish. Don was a defenseman in South Bend, Ind. from 1977 through 1981. Mario is a forward and has already amassed 10 points in an abbreviated first year with the team.
The highly touted college rookie just returned home from a trip to Ufa, Russia where he was part of the gold medal winning Team USA squad in the 2013 World Junior Championships despite missing the first nine games of the season with a broken leg.
Mario was joined in Russia by Gophers freshmen defenseman Mike Reilly and assistant coach Grant Potulny.
The annual tournament involving the top players under 20 in the world will usually select one if not a few Golden Gophers to the roster. Because of this fact, coach Lucia decided it would be best to move tonight’s game from last Saturday as originally scheduled. It is our luck that we get to see both school’s with mostly their top lineups tonight.
Minnesota junior forward Erik Haula is expected to miss the game with an injury and it is still uncertain how much ice time Reilly or Mario will get coming off the grueling WJC tournament schedule.
Historically the University of Minnesota plays weaker non-conference games during this point of the season due to the WJC, but with Boston College’s inclusion in the Mariucci Classic last week, hockey fans got to see high-end hockey during winter break.
It will be interesting to see how the Gophers come off their 8-1 victory over then No. 1 BC and now currently hold that ranking over the Fighting Irish who are next in line at No. 2.
Minnesota fans should be happy to see any and all opponents at this point of the season. The top ranked Gophers are the only team in the country to be statistically in the top ten in offense, defense, penalty killing, and power play efficiency — all very good factors in a championship hockey team.
It is a busy weak on top of this evening’s game versus Notre Dame. Minnesota will host the University of Alaska-Anchorage on Friday and Saturday in WCHA play.
It is a good thing that players do not have to account for classes this week with three games in five days. If Minnesota pulls out the trifecta, then expect them to grab the remaining 12 first place votes in the USCHO.com polls that they don’t already have.
The Fighting Irish own eight of the 12 votes and Minnesota would love to hold all 50 first place votes when they host rival North Dakota in a week and a half.
Prediction: Tuesday – Minnesota 3, Notre Dame 2. Friday and Saturday – A combined 12-3 sweep against UAA, any way you want to score it.
TV/Radio: Tonight versus Notre Dame at 7:05 p.m. CT on FOX Sports North PLUS or AM-1500 ESPN. Friday versus UAA at 8:05 p.m. CT on Big Ten Network or AM-1500 ESPN. Saturday versus UAA at 7:05 p.m. CT on FOX Sports North (regular) or AM-1500 ESPN.