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Hockey

Jake Evans leads the Irish on and off the ice

| Monday, April 9, 2018

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Heading into the 2017-2018 season, the Irish were without star left wing Anders Bjork, who decided to go pro after his junior year. Bjork was a major catalyst for the Notre Dame offense last season, leading the team on the year with 21 goals and 31 assists for a total of 52 points, and his absence meant that the Irish were going to have to find more ways to score.

At the start of the year, head coach Jeff Jackson knew it wasn’t going to be just one player.  

“I don’t think it’s going to be any one guy that’s going to help fill that void offensively … so we’re going to have to make up those 50 points with everybody,” Jackson said in the preseason press conference. “I think there’s certainly guys from last year’s team that could be more productive offensively. But, I think we can make up for those points.”

Senior captain Jake Evans may not be the goal-scorer that Anders Bjork was, but his selfless style of play and presence on and off the ice have been crucial to the success of the Irish this season.

Ann Curtis | The Observer

Irish senior forward and captain Jake Evans waits for a pass during Notre Dame’s 4-3 win over Michigan in the Frozen Four on Thursday in St. Paul, Minnesota. Evans had two goals and an assist in the game.

Evans has tallied 32 assists this season, the most on Notre Dame’s squad and tied for the fifth-most in the country. Evans’s nearly flawless facilitation all season long has allowed a number of guys to become pivotal goal scorers for Notre Dame (28-9-2, 17-6-1 Big Ten). As catalyst of the aggregate offense, the senior has helped the Irish manage to fill the hole left by Bjork’s absence and make the Frozen Four for the second-straight season.

And when it has mattered most, Evans has been beyond clutch. The captain assisted the game-winning goal in overtime against Ohio State to hand the Irish a Big Ten championship March 17. He also assisted the game-winning goal in the first round of the tournament against Michigan Tech on March 23. And then Thursday night, Evans helped spark a comeback after the Irish fell behind 2-0 with an assist and a goal, and then promptly sent the Irish to the national championship with his second goal on the night in the final seconds of play.

Virtually every time the Irish have needed someone to step up in crunch time this season, Evans has been involved. His sterling play in high pressure situations is a perfect example of why the Irish have a chance at the national title Saturday night.

But if you talk to head coach Jeff Jackson or Evans’ fellow teammates, they’ll tell you that the senior’s attitude — on and off the ice — is what sets him apart as a captain. According to his teammates, Evans’ presence imbues confidence in those around him, and as a result, the Irish have been able to remain calm, cool and collected in the crunch-time situations they’ve been in so often this season.

Evans’s classmate and fellow forward Bo Brauer extolled the captain’s focus and maturity as a leader.

“It’s been pretty amazing to be with him the last four years,” Brauer said Friday. “He’s really matured. And he stays really focused in the locker room and really focused on the bench. And I think his [calmness] all over the rink and just to keep that really helps our team. And it lets everyone know that we’re all right getting down 2-0 … we look at him as a leader and he stepped up big time. And it’s really easy to follow a guy like that that can make big plays and stay calm under those kind of moments.”

Junior forward Dylan Malmquist echoed Brauer’s sentiments and commended Evans for his good decision-making on the ice.

“He’s our leader, and he stepped up big for us [Thursday] night. And it just goes to show that he has that in him,” Malmquist said. “And on the ice, when you watch him play, you can tell he’s a very smooth skater and makes good puck decisions. And so we just watch him, to be able to do that under pressure and it helps us out a lot on the bench.”

In Thursday night’s game when the Irish found themselves down 2-0 early on, Evans himself said he stressed positivity and confidence to make sure the squad stayed on track.

The biggest thing is just making sure guys don’t get negative and we really didn’t have to do anything, because it wasn’t the leaders that needed to step up. It was a lot of the young guys that were even stepping up, which was a really good sign for us,” Evans said. “And like I’ve been saying, it’s such a calm and confident team that [it] wasn’t panic mode yet, and we fought back with our positivity and our energy and our confidence.”

Irish head coach Jeff Jackson lauded Evans’s leadership abilities and growth throughout his career at Notre Dame. Jackson said that Evans had a long way to go before coming to Notre Dame, but he stepped up and took the challenges head-on.

“Every captain I’ve had has had similar traits, character traits. And Jake falls into that,” he said. “ … I want guys that I can trust on the ice, off the ice, in the classroom, guys that are driven, guys that want to become players that want to be great. I’m not overly concerned about how ‘rah-rah’ they are. [That] they lead by example is more important to me than by voice. And I think Jake, he was a young, young kid when he came into Notre Dame right out of Saint Michael’s College in Toronto. And I knew he had that ‘it’ factor when I recruited him. I challenged him in his last year at juniors about him needing to pick up his game while he was still a recruit. And I told him that he’s not going to be ready to play if he doesn’t. And he got it done.”

On and off the ice, Evans’ presence has clearly been a driving force behind the success of the Irish this season. For Notre Dame, heading into the season hungry for another chance at the Frozen Four after last year’s heartbreak, Evans has been the perfect guy to lead the way.

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