On one side are a pair of college hockey blue bloods in Michigan and North Dakota. The Wolverines won the first NCAA tournament in 1948 and lead all schools with nine titles. The Fighting Sioux are tied for second with seven crowns. Together, they have reached the national semifinals 41 times.
In the other semifinal are Minnesota-Duluth and Notre Dame, programs of promise and potential not yet realized. Between them they have zero championships and only four Frozen Four appearances.
Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson isn't a complete stranger to this environment — he won titles at Lake Superior State in 1992 and 1994 and brought the Fighting Irish to the brink of a title before losing to Boston College in 2008. He warned against reading too much into the 16-0 gap in titles.
"The championships won by the two traditional powers are all well and good, but when you get into one-game situations, it's just a matter of which team goes out and plays 60 minutes of great, disciplined hockey," Jackson said. "If you lose focus for just one shift it can be the difference."
Minnesota-Duluth coach Scott Sandelin got the Bulldogs to the semifinals before falling to Denver in 2004. He said history doesn't matter nearly as much at this stage as having everything aligned properly.