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Irish fall just short of Hockey East title

| Monday, February 27, 2017

Riding a six-game unbeaten streak into its weekend series against No. 6 Boston University, No. 14 Notre Dame improbably found itself with an opportunity to win its first Hockey East championship. Needing to sweep the Terriers away from home, the Irish came up just short, splitting the series and wrapping up a regular season that ended with a lot of drama.

With the split, Notre Dame (19-10-5, 12-6-4 Hockey East) will be the No. 4 seed in the Hockey East playoffs, earning a first-round bye and hosting a quarterfinal series from March 10-12 at the Compton Family Ice Arena. BU (21-10-3, 13-6-3) claimed a share of the Hockey East title alongside Boston College and UMass Lowell, all with 29 points apiece. Notre Dame finished with 28.

Irish junior forward Jake Evans squares up for a faceoff during Notre Dame's 4-4 tie with Vermont on Feb. 3 at Compton Family Ice Arena. Kelly Vaughan | The Observer
Irish junior forward Jake Evans squares up for a faceoff during Notre Dame’s 4-4 tie with Vermont on Feb. 3 at Compton Family Ice Arena.

The Irish looked ready to claim the regular season title outright Friday night. Junior forward Jake Evans buried his 11th goal of the season at midway through the first period by beating freshman Terrier goaltender Jake Oettinger high. BU evened the game by the end of the first period, but senior forward Ben Ostlie put the Irish back in front late in the second, shoveling a rebound into the net with just over a minute and a half to play.

In the third period, junior goalkeeper Cal Petersen and the Irish defense were the stars, as Notre Dame engineered back-to-back penalty kills within the first nine minutes. Peterson later made several critical saves to keep the Irish ahead. Then, with less than three minutes to go, Evans scored his second of the night on a two-on-one rush to give the Irish a much more comfortable 3-1 lead. BU promptly pulled Oettinger in favor of another attacker, but Peterson turned away everything the Terriers sent at him, finishing with 37 saves, including 23 in the third period. With the win, the Irish stretched their unbeaten streak to seven games.

“I think our team has grown up,” Irish head coach Jeff Jackson said. “All our freshman and sophomores get that experience and that confidence, and we become a much better team. A lot of [the recent success] has to do with just going through tough times in the first half — we were real inconsistent, but now we’re doing things we weren’t before, so that shows growth on their part.”

With Boston College losing both of their games to UMass Lowell, the Irish took the ice Saturday night knowing a win would earn them the Hockey East championship, and a tie earning them a share. Neither outcome materialized.

Freshman forward Mike O’Leary put the Irish up 1-0 with his second goal of the season with just under five minutes left in the first period, but that was all the Irish would get against Oettinger on Saturday, as the BU goaltender totaled 40 saves.

The Terriers offense rewarded their goalie’s play by scoring two goals in the second period and two more in the third, securing a 4-1 victory and a share of the Hockey East regular season title.

“One of the toughest things to do in college hockey is to win two games in somebody else’s building,” Jackson said. “Especially when you’re playing a high-quality team. There’s always going to be pushback. Our guys did a great job last night. It took a lot out of them, physically and emotionally. We didn’t have enough in us tonight to do it again.”

Although Notre Dame’s loss Saturday was disappointing in terms of what was at stake, Jackson said postgame that he was extremely proud of how the Irish finished out the regular season with consistency and confidence.

“I’m proud of what they’ve done,” Jackson said. “We talked about the lack of consistency for the first half of the year, and just this last month they’ve been very consistent in their approach and how they’ve played. I can’t do anything but tip my hat to them. I don’t think anybody thought we were going to come in here playing for first place … but they’ve been really good here in the last stretch. The confidence is built, and that makes us a much better team.”

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About Joe Everett

Joe is a senior PLS major and hails from the thriving metropolis of South Bend, IN. In addition to formerly serving as Sports Editor at The Observer, Joe is a RA in Stanford Hall and a past champion of the Observer's Fantasy Football league.

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