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Sunday, April 21, 2024
The Observer

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Notre Dame hockey has narrow path to secure home ice to start Big Ten tournament

Wildly, a fifth tiebreaker step could cost the Irish

Notre Dame’s hockey team is coming off of a largely successful weekend against Minnesota, claiming four of a possible six points, one more than the Michigan Wolverine picked up during their weekend games at Penn State. Every individual point matters now for the Irish, who sit at 9-11-2 with 31 points and two incredibly big games remaining. This is good enough for fourth in the Big-10 standings, the lowest seed to host round one of the conference playoffs. 

Right on Notre Dame’s heels is Michigan (8-10-2, 28 points, four games remaining), as the longtime multi-sport rivals have around a 90-95% chance of rekindling their rivalry in round one of the Big-10 playoffs. Unless the Irish or Wolverines somehow pass the Golden Gophers (37 points, two games remaining) or get jumped by the Nittany Lions (20 points, four games remaining), they will finish the regular season at fourth and fifth in the Big-10 and will match up against each other in the postseason.

Although the opponent is essentially a guarantee for Notre Dame, the venue is far from it, and it’s very relevant. The Irish are a solid 13-8 at home this season, including 7-5 (with one OTL) in conference play; however, they drop to a dreadful 2-7-2 mark on the road on the season. The Irish increase their chances of winning Round One by a sizeable margin if that series were to take place at Compton Family Ice Arena and not Yost Arena in Ann Arbor. 

Notre Dame controls its own destiny this coming weekend, playing Michigan twice as visitors. Two wins would guarantee Notre dame home ice (unless they both occur in overtime, in which case Michigan would still have a chance to overtake them). One regulation win and one overtime loss would put the Irish in a good spot heading into the final weekend — a bye for ND — but not guarantee them anything. Two losses seals the deal as well, as in that case the Irish would fall to fifth (unless both are in overtime, in which case Notre Dame would technically maintain a one point lead, but have no games remaining).

Let’s say the Irish and Wolverine split the series in regulation, a likely scenario. This would create no change in the standings difference between the two clubs heading into the final regular season weekend, when Michigan visits Minnesota and Notre Dame watches. Michigan would need just one regulation win in that series to secure the fourth seed — by the fifth tiebreaker.

For the sake of fun, let’s look at why Michigan would claim the higher seed and home ice over Notre Dame if they were to split with ND then split with Minnesota, all in regulation:

Tiebreaker #1: head-to-head points percentage (both teams would be 2-2-0 in the matchup)
Tiebreaker #2: regulation wins (both teams would have 9)
Tiebreaker #3: regulation losses (both teams would have 11)
Tiebreaker #4: record vs (1) seed: Michigan State (both teams 1-3)
Tiebreaker #5: record vs Wisconsin (Michigan 1-3-0, Notre Dame 0-4-0)

The odds that it comes down to this are slim, but far from zero, as weekend splits are a frequent outcome in any given series, and overtime is rather rare. However, this scenario is preventable if the Irish go into Yost Arena this weekend and take care of business. They did it last year, sweeping the Wolverines on their ice, and if they do so again, expect to see playoff hockey return to Compton in March. If not, things get dicey, although it’s hard to bet against Ryan Bischel in any given series.