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Jake Evans leaves indelible mark after leading hockey program back to the Frozen Four

| Friday, May 18, 2018

Any program looking to break through the top ranks and solidify itself as a force to be reckoned with needs key pieces. It needs a core group of leaders to elevate the team from a good program to a national powerhouse. For Notre Dame, Jake Evans was that guy.

In Evans’ four-year tenure at Notre Dame, he was an integral force in solidifying the program as amongst the best in the nation. From a quarterfinal loss in the 2015 Hockey East tournament and a missed chance at the NCAA championships, Evans lifted the Irish to a Big Ten title and an NCAA championship berth in his senior year.

Ann Curtis | The Observer
Irish senior forward and captain Jake Evans skates across the ice during Notre Dame’s 2-1 loss to Minnesota Duluth on April 7 at Xcel Energy Center.

It is difficult to imagine where the Irish would be without Evans at the forefront in these past two seasons, but for the center from Toronto, the choice to attend Notre Dame was an easy one.

“I didn’t really know much about college hockey,” Evans said. “And then I just went to a few schools this one weekend and Notre Dame just stood out from the rest with their relatively-new rink and obviously the academics here. It’s just such a great school and such a cool campus that it definitely stood out above the rest when I actually got to visit here.”

From there, Evans dove into college hockey, and although now it is easy to look back on the illustrious career he built at Notre Dame, it wasn’t all that easy for Evans from the beginning. Evans played a solid year of hockey as a freshman, playing in 41 of Notre Dame’s 42 games and recording seven goals and 10 assists for a season total of 17 points. Evans went on to skate in all six of the squad’s playoff games, but still, these accolades pale in comparison to his later achievements. For Evans, freshman year was all about patience and learning from the older leaders on the team.

“When you’re coming in as a freshman, you just have to be patient and be open to learning from all the older guys,” Evans said. “Those are the biggest things that I was focusing on when I was coming in as a freshman, and try not to put too much expectations of pressure on yourself and just realize you’re there for a reason. Coaches have belief in you, and it may not be that first year you perform that well, but just be patient and eventually it’ll come.”

Evans’ patience paid off handsomely, both for him and the program as a whole. In his sophomore year, Evans showed the first glimpses of the type of player he would become to leave his mark on the Notre Dame hockey program. He tallied 25 assists and eight goals for a total of 33 points, nearly doubling his freshman season point total. This astronomical rise in assists was key for Evans’ game, as his selfless style of play is what would lead the Irish to two-conecutive Frozen Four appearances in his junior and senior years. Evans credited an increase in confidence for his elevation of play in his sophomore year.

“The biggest thing for me, and I guess all college hockey players, is after your first year you just get a lot more confidence,” Evans said. “That was the biggest thing for me. All the coaches started to show some more confidence in me and put me in situations I didn’t get my freshman year. So I think that all helped me. And then you just learn the speed of the game and where things will work and where things won’t work and that really helped me out.”

After a breakout sophomore season, Evans served as an alternate captain in his junior year and the team’s lone captain in his senior year. His 13 goals and 29 assists in the 2016-17 season lifted the Irish to a Frozen Four appearance against eventual national champion Denver. In the 2017 tournament, Evans continually came up in the clutch when the Irish needed him, assisting the game-winning goal against Minnesota in the first round and the game-tying goal against UMass-Lowell which helped the Irish seal a 3-2 overtime victory and a Frozen Four berth.

And Evans continued his clutch play the following year in the 2017-18 campaign. Finishing the season with 46 points on 13 goals and 33 assists, Evans solidified himself in the annals of Notre Dame Hockey history. The list of Evans’ achievements and impacts on the season is lengthy. The senior forward assisted junior defenseman Jordan Gross’ game-winning goal against Ohio State on February 9, a win which handed the Irish the Big Ten regular-season title. He assisted two of Notre Dame’s goals in the Big Ten championship game against Ohio State, helping the Irish claim the Big Ten title. He recorded the primary assist on Gross’ game-winning overtime goal against Michigan Tech in the first round of the NCAA tournament. He assisted Andrew Oglevie’s game tying goal against Providence in the second round of the NCAA tournament. And then, Evans did what no one saw coming, scoring the game-winning goal in the final seconds against Michigan in the Frozen Four to send Notre Dame to its second NCAA championship appearance.

Evans credited his teammates when asked about the team’s success in the past couple of years, saying it was easy to be a leader around his guys.

“It was definitely an exciting past couple of years with the Frozen Fours,” Evans said. “The team just bought in, and that was the biggest thing for us. Everyone was just buying in. Being a leader on the team wasn’t very hard because everyone was contributing, everyone was getting along, and everyone was doing what they needed to do. It was just a really fun past few years with all of the success we had.”

Irish head coach Jeff Jackson, who recruited Evans, was integral to his development throughout his Notre Dame career. Evans said that having such a dedicated coach was an incredible experience in his time at Notre Dame.

“He has obviously just meant so much to me,” Evans said. “He’s shown a belief in me — and it may not have been my first year where I was getting a lot of ice or putting up the points, but he saw something in me and he coached me so well. He took me aside multiple times and just talked to me about what I needed to do better and just talked to me about life and made sure everything was okay a lot of the time. Having that as a coach is awesome. … As a coach, he seems like a pretty serious guy, but he just cares so much and wants the best for everyone. He works so hard at his job. On a daily basis, he’s always prepared to give us the best chance for the upcoming weekend.”

After his senior year, Evans signed a two-year deal with the Montreal Canadiens, where he will try to make the NHL team this upcoming year. He looks to emulate the success he had in college by doing just what he did in his freshman year at Notre Dame: having patience and learning from team leaders.

“Once you’re done in college for hockey it’s time to make that next step into pro hockey,” Evans said. “You can’t be satisfied with what you’ve done in college — you’ve got to take it to the next level. So I think I just have to have that mindset that what I did in college is done now and I’ve got to take that next stop and try to make the NHL team next year. [I] just have to have a really good pro year and learn from the older guys, kind of like I went back to freshman year, just learning from the older guys and not putting too much pressure on myself and just playing my game is going to be a big thing next year.”

In any case, it is clear that Evans has left his mark on Notre Dame, playing an integral part of the program’s elevation in recent years, and he is primed for success in the next stage of his career.

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