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Irish top Buckeyes in overtime to capture Big Ten championship

| Tuesday, March 20, 2018

After earning the Big Ten regular-season title, No. 2 Notre Dame defeated No. 5 Ohio State in overtime to win the Big Ten championship Saturday night.

The Irish (25-9-2, 17-6-1 Big Ten) got off to an uncharacteristically hot start in the first period. Roughly four minutes after the puck dropped, senior forward Bo Brauer slotted his fifth goal of the season thanks to the assist from senior forward and captain Jake Evans and junior defenseman Bobby Nardella. Ten minutes later, after Ohio State (24-9-5, 14-8-2) was called for cross-checking, freshman defenseman Matt Hellickson scored his third goal of the season on the powerplay to put the Irish ahead 2-0.

Ann Curtis | The Observer
Irish senior forward and captain Jake Evans skates up the ice during Notre Dame’s 5-1 loss to Ohio State on Feb. 10 at Compton Family Ice Arena.

With the worst lead in hockey, the Irish looked vulnerable in the second period, as the momentum shifted in Ohio State’s favor. Six minutes into the period, Buckeyes junior forward Brendon Kearney scored his fifth goal of the season to cut the Notre Dame lead to one. The Irish managed to fend off the offensive efforts of the Buckeyes for the remainder of the period, but Ohio State would bounce back quickly. One minute into the final period, sophomore defenseman Matt Miller scored his seventh goal of the season for the Buckeyes to tie the game with a championship on the line. The Irish appeared to regain some of that momentum as the period went on, but they could not capitalize on their scoring opportunities that came in the final two minutes. With that, the Big Ten title game went into overtime.

After eight minutes of back and forth, the Irish managed to end the game as sophomore forward Cam Morrison slotted a wrist shot from the left side off the assist from Evans and junior defenseman Dennis Gilbert. It was Morrison’s eighth goal of the season, and it handed the trophy to Notre Dame.

After the game, Irish head coach Jeff Jackson commented on the importance of regaining momentum heading into overtime and the importance of momentum in general late in the season.

“Well, just like every game at this time of the year, momentum dictates everything,” Jackson said. “We had momentum in the early part of the game, they had momentum in the middle part of the game and we found a way to get it back at the end of the game and then in overtime. Our team has been resilient all year long. We’ve had to play from two goals down and we’ve had to play from two goals up, and a two-goal lead is the worst lead in hockey, and it showed up again [Saturday night]. But we were able to recuperate and get our feet back underneath us. If I could bottle that first period and do it for 60 minutes, that would be ideal going into the NCAA tournament.”

Although a bigger stage lies ahead for the Irish in the NCAA tournament, Jackson and his squad are thrilled with their Big Ten championship win, especially considering the high level of play in the conference this season. Jackson lauded the team’s resilience throughout the season and said he is confident heading into the tournament.

“Well, the conference was really tough,” Jackson said. “I mean, we had a good run in the middle of the year which really propelled us to the top. But we found out in the second half how really good the conference is. It was that way in the first half, too, we were just really fortunate to get bounces and win games that some nights we didn’t deserve to win. A lot of that had to do with our goaltending in [sophomore] Cale Morris, but we won through those games, and I think it toughened us up.

”January and February may have hurt is in some ways, but it may have helped us realize we have to play a different style — we have to play better without the puck, and we can’t just rely on our goaltender. And it’s harder to score goals this time of year. I think that the break, the bye week, as much as I was concerned about the competitive aspect of it, it might have been a real good thing for us mentally to reset. … I’m good where we are. At least we’re going into the tournament with a little bit of confidence.”

In the end, Jackson said joining the Big Ten was a significant positive for the Irish this season.  

”Going into the Big Ten was a positive because people know Ohio State, people know Penn State and plus, we’re playing a single game as opposed to a best-of-three, where it’s hard to fill a building three-straight nights during the playoffs,” Jackson said. “I like the best-of-three in a lot of ways, but people are not going to come to three-straight games in most cases. Only the die-hards will come to three-straight games. So, the single game worked in our favor being at home obviously. I might not feel that way a year from now, but for me, I think it created a great environment. It’s so much better than playing in a big building that’s half-full or less than half-full.

“So kudos to the people that made that decision in the Big Ten. I know the coaches were involved in that, too, but I think the playoff structure has led to making it an exciting game [Saturday], and a big part of that was the crowd.”

The Irish will begin their journey to the NCAA championship this Friday at Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, Connecticut. The puck will drop at 3 p.m.

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