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Notre Dame eliminated by UMass Lowell in Hockey East quarterfinals

| Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Notre Dame lost to No. 14 University of Massachusetts Lowell 6-4 on Sunday in a decisive game three of the Hockey East conference tournament quarterfinals, likely ending their 2014-15 season.

The Irish finished the season with a record of 18-19-5, including a 10-7-5 record in Hockey East.

Although disappointed with the weekend’s result, Irish head coach Jeff Jackson said his squad played its best hockey in the final two months of the season, which will help the young team heading into next year.

“I’m excited about the direction that we’re headed,” Jackson said.

UMass Lowell (20-11-6, 11-7-4 Hockey East) won the first game of the three-game quarterfinal series Friday night with a final score of 5-0. However, the Irish were able to rebound the following night and defeated the River Hawks 4-2 to force the pivotal Game 3 on Sunday.

Jackson said he was proud of the way his team responded on Saturday to force a third game in the series.

“We definitely rebounded [after Friday night], we were down and our guys kept playing and we came back and fought right till the end,” Jackson said.

In Game 3, the River Hawks’ quick start proved to be the deciding factor as they jumped out to an early 2-0 first period lead, scoring two goals in the game’s opening five minutes.

Jackson said it was difficult for his squad to come back from this rough start, especially as the road team. Hockey’s substitution rules require the visiting team to substitute first, which allows the home team to substitute according to the opponent’s lineup.

“It’s not so much the crowd factor, but the difficulty of getting the right people on the ice at the right time,” Jackson said.

Midway into the first period, Notre Dame cut the lead in half with a goal from senior defenseman Robbie Russo, his first of two goals on the afternoon. Russo’s second goal, his 15th of the season, placed him atop the goal-scoring list for all defenseman nationally.

Sunday’s contest was Russo’s last game in an Irish uniform, and Jackson said his Notre Dame career has been “great,” particularly his senior season, which Jackson described as “an All-American year.”

“He’s been the anchor for us not just offensively, but defensively as well, especially this year where he’s really helped out our young guys,” Jackson said.

Freshman defenseman Jordan Gross assisted on Russo’s first-period goal, which was Gross’s twenty-first assist of the season.

Jackson said Gross, as just a freshman, played an “instrumental role” for the squad.

“He had a great freshman year, without question one of the best freshmen defensemen in college hockey,” Jackson said.

UMass Lowell tallied two more goals prior to intermission, however, making the game 4-1 at the end of the first period.

Russo’s second goal of the afternoon came in the second period but was sandwiched in between a pair of River Hawks’ goals in that period, making the score 6-2 heading into the second intermission.

Two Notre Dame goals in the third period, the first from senior right wing Peter Schneider and the second from Gross, brought Notre Dame within two goals.

Notre Dame’s rally proved too-little-too-late as UMass Lowell thwarted the Notre Dame comeback. The River Hawks earned a slot in the semifinal round against top-seeded Boston University.

Notre Dame earned the No. 5 seed in the Hockey East tournament and a first-round, best-of-three matchup with twelfth-seeded Massachusetts, which the Irish won two games to one.

Jackson said he is “excited” about Notre Dame’s 2015-16 campaign, as the squad will return nine freshman players next season.

“We have a lot to build on in the next few years,” he said. “It’s going to be an exciting thing for us to watch these young guys turn into great players.”

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