Frozen Four 2011: Notre Dame Hockey To Face Local Favorite Minnesota-Duluth

There's no doubt that in St. Paul, Minn., the Minnesota Golden Gophers are the local team of choice. That said, with Minnesota-Duluth in the 2011 Frozen Four at that city's Xcel Energy Center this weekend, there's no doubt which team the home crowd will be pulling for. 

The Bulldogs upset the No. 1-seeded Yale Bulldogs (too much Bulldog) in the Northeast Regional in Bridgeport, Conn. two weeks ago, a venue that was considered a home rink for Yale, so they know that the crowd edge doesn't necessarily equate victory. To be real about it, they're not even thinking about the home state edge.

"I don't see that we have any added pressure being the home state team," UMD goaltender Kenny Reiter told reporters, including SB Nation Minnesota's Nathan Wells, earlier this week. "There are four good teams in the tournament. We are comfortable with the support we are going to have. We are just approaching the Frozen Four with a business-like attitude."

The young Notre Dame Fighting Irish will face off against Minnesota-Duluth at 5 p.m. Eastern Thursday to open this year's Frozen Four. They enter the final weekend of the season as a surprising bunch, perhaps a little ahead of the curve in terms of their own development. They've been led by goaltender Mike Johnson, only a sophomore. Coach Jeff Jackson spoke about Johnson's season.

"Mike is a character kid," Jackson said. "One of the things he is going through is that he had never truly been a No. 1 goalie, and last year he was just thrown into it. He had top-five numbers in the country in the first half last year before fading out. This year he took a positive step, he was much better in shape, and worked hard in the offseason. He had some stellar games this year."    

The Irish are a young club, employing 12 freshmen on the roster. For them to be in the Frozen Four is a hell of an accomplishment already, but despite two losses against WCHA teams this season, they'll look to stop one en route to another surprising step toward a National Championship.

You can watch the game at 5 p.m. Eastern on Thursday on ESPN2 and ESPN3.com

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