While the rest of his Notre Dame teammates were trying to regain whatever edge they may have lost as college hockey’s hottest team, senior center Jake Evans found somewhere warmer than arctic South Bend to stay competitively sound over Christmas break.
“It actually was warmer there,” laughed the Irish captain of Davos, which sits at 5,118 feet above sea level in the Swiss Alps some 4,454 miles away from South Bend and its 692 feet of elevation. Evans was there to help Team Canada win the 91st Spengler Cup, a tune-up for the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in South Korea.
The 6-foot-1, 190-pound Evans, who is tied for the NCAA scoring lead with 28 points (7 goals, 21 assists), is second in faceoffs won (277) and second with a plus/minus total of +19, returned to the chilly Notre Dame campus Monday to rejoin his teammates. The rest of the Irish have been skating on the Lefty Smith Rink at the Compton Family Ice Arena since Dec. 27 preparing for this weekend’s home-and-home Big Ten Conference series against long-time rival Michigan.
When they were last all together, on the evening of Dec. 9, 2017 in Madison, Wis., the Irish had just finished off the Wisconsin Badgers 6-2 for their 13th straight victory overall, the longest current winning streak in the nation. On Tuesday, coach Jeff Jackson’s 16-3-1 Irish, off to a 10-0-0-0 start in their inaugural season in the Big Ten, got further affirmation to the respect they gained before first-semester final exams by zooming to No. 1 in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine (coaches) poll and No. 2 in the USCHO.com (media) poll behind St. Cloud State.
“It was just an unbelievable putting on that (maple leaf) jersey and playing for your country,” Evans said after playing in all four games for Team Canada, which won the gold medal
This Friday night, Evans will don his Notre Dame’s blue No. 18 road uniform with the captain “C” under his left shoulder when the Irish try to pick up where they left off, and he’s excited for his first game at Michigan’s storied Yost Ice Arena, where the Wolverines and their fans will gather to dedicate the rink’s name after retired legendary coach Gordon “Red” Berenson.
“I think the biggest thing for us is just to be intense in practice this week,” said Evans, a Toronto native who is majoring in marketing in Notre Dame’s prestigious Mendoza College of Business. “Having high intensity and focusing on the little things and trying not to over-complicate things in those games, especially at Yost Ice Arena. Keep things simple at first and then get our legs back into it and I think our game will come back to it.”
It’s what Jackson likes about Evans, who played at competitive St. Michael’s College School, which has sent six previous players to Notre Dame.
“Jake is a very mature guy,” Jackson said. “Even though he is young, he’s a true senior. He’s only 21. He’s just very calm. He probably leads in two ways. First of all, he’s well respected, so I think he can lead by example. The guys watch how he does his work – whether in the weight room or school wise, and he does the right things socially. Then on the ice he’s a guy willing to do the little things and the details of the game. Then there’s the maturity side, knowing when to speak up and knowing when he doesn’t have to. That’s a nice balance.”
Evans credits former Irish captains Steve Fogarty and Cal Petersen for showing him how to lead.
“I’ve been trying to learn day by day and trying to get better,” Evans said. “I try not to be over-controlling or over-leading or over-demanding of the guys. I want to lay back and let the guys do what they do best. All these guys here are doing a lot of things right in helping the team win, so it’s made my job very easy. Both Steve and Cal did a great job just laying back and letting the guys do what they do. But they also stepped in at the right times when things needed to be said or needed to be done.”
Senior forward Bo Brauer has watched Evans grow as a player and a leader since they arrived on campus in the summer prior to their freshman year.
“It’s been awesome to be his teammate for four years,” Brauer said. “When we got here, we didn’t know what to expect. It’s awesome to see Jake in such a leadership role now and doing such a good job at it.”
Evans likes the way the Irish have worked to maintain the streak.
“There’s a lot of positivity around the rink right now,” he said. “We like where we’re at and we’re excited to see where things will go. Teams are going to be eyeing us down now. Even without the (No. 1) ranking, we know we’re Notre Dame and we’re going to get the toughest competition. We’ve got to be ready for that.”
Quiet, confident and talented Jake Evans will see to it.
WHO: Notre Dame (16-3-1 overall, 10-0-0-0 Big Ten) vs. Michigan (8-8-2, 3-5-2-1 Big Ten).
THERE: Friday on Red Berenson Ice Rink at Yost Ice Arena (6,600 capacity) at 6:30 p.m. ET (Big Ten Network).
HERE: Sunday on Lefty Smith Rink at Compton Family Ice Arena (5,022 capacity) at 3:05 p.m. (NBC Sports Network).
RADIO: WZOC-FM (94.3) both games.
SERIES NOTES: Notre Dame has played Michigan 135 times – the most of any opponent – and trails 74-56 with five games ending in ties. … Michigan won last meeting, 3-2 in overtime, in the opening round of the 2016 NCAA Midwest Regional at Cincinnati’s U.S. Bank Arena. … Prior to that, Notre Dame won five straight, all during the 2012-13 season, the last a 3-1 victory at Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena in the final Central Collegiate Hockey Association championship game.
IRISH ICE CHIPS: Notre Dame enters the series with a 13-game winning streak, the longest active streak in the country and its longest ever under 13-year head coach Jeff Jackson. ... The Irish, at 8-0 the only Division I team in country without a road loss, have not played since a 6-2 victory on Dec. 9 at Wisconsin that left them 10-0 with 30 points in their inaugural season as an affiliate member of the seven-team Big Ten. … Notre Dame is third in scoring defense (2.00 per game), fifth in scoring margin (1.35), ninth in penalty kill (87 percent) and 13th in scoring offense (3.35). … Sophomore Cale Morris, who has been in goal for all 13 victories, is first nationally in winning percentage (.938) and saves percentage (.954) and second in goals-against average (1.53) and shutouts (4). … Forwards Jake Evans, Cal Burke and Andrew Oglevie are tied for fifth nationally in game-winning goals (3). … Evans is second in assists per game (1.05) and fifth in points per game (1.40) though he does share the NCAA lead in points (7-21-28) with Western Michigan’s Wade Allison (15-13-28) and Michigan junior Cooper Marody (7-21-28).
WOLVERINE WANDERINGS: Currently sixth in the Big Ten with 12 points, Michigan finished third in the Great Lakes Invitational at the new Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, beating Michigan State 6-4 in Monday’s consolation and losing 6-4 to Bowling Green in Sunday’s opening round. … Former Michigan Tech standout Mel Pearson, who spent six years as head coach of his alma mater, replaced Red Berenson, who was his boss from 1988-2011 and is being honored Friday with the rink’s dedication. … Marody is first nationally in assists per game (1.18) and fourth nationally in points per game (1.41). … Senior forward Tony Calderone is third nationally in goals per game (0.82).
QUOTING JEFF JACKSON: (About coming back from a long layoff) “It’s no different than a bye week. You try to get your competitive edge back. It’s the little things, the details of your game, getting acclimated to the competitive things in the corners and the net front. The other thing, too, is discipline with penalties. You’re a step slower reacting and all of a sudden you will take a hook or a hold. For me, it’s about doing a good job protecting the puck, managing the puck and then trying to stay out of the penalty box.”