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Notre Dame beats Michigan in closing seconds for title-game berth

| Friday, April 6, 2018

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Like most games this season, Notre Dame got off to a slow start Thursday night. It seems as if the Irish have played from behind all season. But Thursday night — in what has also become a season trend — it did not stop them from coming out on top.

Michigan came out aggressively on defense from the very start. For the first eight minutes, the Irish (28-9, 17-6 Big Ten) struggled to control the possession battle as the Wolverines (22-15, 11-10) continually dumped the puck into the Irish zone. And 8:19 into the first period, Michigan’s pressure paid off. Senior right wing Tony Calderone slotted a wrist shot on the assist from senior forward Dexter Dancs and junior forward Cooper Marody to draw first blood for the Wolverines. Although Michigan did not add to its lead in the first period, the Irish continued to look shaky, as the Wolverines dominated Notre Dame on faceoffs, winning the first period with a 15-2 margin.

Michigan continued its high-pressure attack in the second period, and once again, it paid off early on. Only 17 seconds into the second period, Dancs gave the Wolverines a 2-0 lead after his shot bounced off the arm of Irish junior defenseman Dennis Gilbert into the net. With a shaky defense and a bit of bad luck,  the Irish suddenly were down 2-0.

But, as is often said, a 2-0 lead is the worst lead in hockey.

Ann Curtis | The Observer
Irish senior forward and captain Jake Evans skates up the ice during Notre Dame’s 4-3 win over Michigan in the Frozen Four on Thursday night at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota.

The Notre Dame offense began to show signs of life as the second period carried on. After Michigan was called for a two minute holding minor 2:32 into the period, junior center Andrew Oglevie capitalized on the power play opportunity and cut the Michigan lead to one thanks to an assist from senior captain Jake Evans and senior defenseman Jordan Gross. And it did not stop there for the Irish. Four minutes later, Evans went on to tie the game on a one-time slap shot assisted by Gross. The Irish were suddenly back where they started with a lot of game left to play.

“We’ve had some unlucky bounces go on for us throughout the year. And I think we knowhow to handle our adversity this time of year,” Oglevie said postgame of Notre Dame’s ability to respond. “And we’ve got a mature group. And our message was just stay on the bench and go out there and take the game to them. And I think we did a good job of that during the second period.” 

Notre Dame’s offense stayed hot in the third period, as sophomore right wing Cal Burke slotted home in transition only 1:35 into the final period, thanks to the assist from junior forward Dylan Malmquist and Oglevie. The sophomore’s goal gave the Irish the lead for the first time in the game.

But Michigan would bounce back 13 minutes later when freshman left wing Michael Pastujov scored on the assist from freshman forward Jack Becker and sophomore forward Nick Pastujov. With the game tied and yet another overtime looming for Notre Dame, the Irish refused to relent. With only 5.2 seconds remaining in the contest, Jake Evans scored his second goal of the night — despite being surrounded by defenders — off a feed from sophomore left wing Cam Morrison to send the Irish to the national championship game.

Ann Curtis | The Observer
The Irish celebrate their win over Michigan on Thursday at Xcel Energy Center after senior forward and captain Jake Evans’ game-winning goal with 5.2 seconds left secured the Irish a spot in Saturday’s national championship.

After the game, Evans credited his teammates, Morrison and senior right wing Jack Jenkins, for the crucial assist that led to the game winner.

“Yeah, I think I don’t really remember how it actually started, but I know Jenkins was in a battle with another forward, I think, and he did a really good job of winning that battle and getting it to squirt out for me,” Evans said. “And then I just saw Cam flying on the wing, and he’s got such great speed and he’s a strong guy. And I thought he’d have a chance at getting a shot or just going hard to the net. And I knew there was a little bit of time left, so I thought I’d give it one last rush, and Cam just did a really good job of putting it out there for me.”

With the win being Notre Dame’s sixth-straight contest decided by a single goal, Evans said Notre Dame has the experience to succeed in the high intensity moments.

“It’s definitely fun playing in these environments, playing in a great rink, a great crowd,” Evans said. “Obviously, you want to just keep piling up goals, but they’re not going to happen this time of year. And it’s a lot of fun because our team has so much confidence right now. And when we’re down one, down two, they get a late goal, we’re a calm team and we’re a unit. And no one’s getting angry or down, everyone’s staying up. And it’s been a lot of fun.”

Irish head coach Jeff Jackson expressed how impressed he has been with Evans and Oglevie this year after the pair helped Notre Dame mount the comeback.

“They’ve been incredible all year,” Jackson said. “There’s a reason why they’re captains. And a big part of it when you get to this time of the year, you rely on your upperclassmen to be there at the most important times of the game. That’s what great players do. So, I know that Jake, he’s had a great year and he’s had an even better year probably as captain of this team. And Andrew is right there with him. They wear their hearts on their sleeves. They’ve got some ability and they take advantage of it.”

The Irish will go on to play in the national championship Saturday night, and for Jackson, a win would mean a lot after the gauntlet the team has had to run so far.

“You know, the Big Ten has been an awesome home this year,” Jackson said. “You’ve seen some great teams tonight and the compete and battle out of Ohio State and Michigan, it was like that playing even at the end of the year against Michigan State. There’s no weak links in this conference. Our first priority is to win for our University and win for these kids. These boys that have battled here all year long. But, it’s nice to be able to represent the Big Ten in a positive way. Hopefully, we’ll be the first team to be able to win a national title as a Big Ten member.”

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