Jack Jenkins' late goal sends Notre Dame hockey into Big Ten Tourney title game

John Fineran
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND — It may go down as the line change of the year for Notre Dame’s hockey team.

With the Big Ten semifinal between Notre Dame and Penn State headed to overtime, Irish coach Jeff Jackson sent Jack Jenkins onto the ice ahead of his linemates. Jenkins skated into the slot and yelled at Dylan Malmquist, who had the puck behind the Penn State goal, to slide it to him.

Malmquist did. Jenkins' first shot was stopped by Penn State center Chase Berger.

“Luckily, it came right to me; fortunately it just found a hole,” said Jenkins, who regathered the rebound and slid the puck along the ice past goalie Peyton Jones at 19:29 of the third period to give the No. 4/5 Irish, the Big Ten regular-season champions, a 3-2 victory over the No. 12 Nittany Lions before 4,892 watching at the Lefty Smith Rink in the Compton Family Ice Arena.

“It was the last shift and I was putting him (Jenkins) out with (Jake) Evans’ line,” Jackson said. “I thought (Jenkins) had been buzzin’ so I wanted him on that last shift.”

The Irish (24-9-2) will play for the Big Ten Tournament championship next Saturday at 8 p.m. at home against Ohio State (24-8-5). The Buckeyes defeated Michigan 3-2 in overtime Saturday night. Penn State (18-14-5), which had entered the game on a five-game winning streak, will await a likely NCAA tournament bid when they go out a week from today.

Jackson saluted goalie Cale Morris, who made 43 saves, and the veteran defensive corps in front of the sophomore. Two of them — senior Jordan Gross and sophomore Andrew Peeke — scored goals in the first period to offset tallies by Nate Sucese and Brandon Biro.

“They are a better team today than the last time we played them,” Jackson said. “I thought our defensive corps did a really good job. And Cale, I’ve said it all season, he’s the guy who has to play well for us to win.”

Jones, who was lifted by head coach Guy Gadowsky after the Jenkins goal for a sixth attacker, made 44 saves.

The Irish had won three of the four meetings from Penn State, two at “The Lefty” Nov. 10-11 (5-3, 1-0) during the 16-game winning streak, and a come-from-behind 5-3 victory Feb. 2 before a 2-2 tie (and shootout win) Feb. 3 at Penn State when Morris made a career-high 55 saves. Penn State outshot Notre Dame in each of the four games and by a 184-117 margin overall. Saturday, Notre Dame outshot the Lions, 47-45.

“I thought we did a better job than we have against them managing the puck,” Jackson said. “That’s always a challenge against them.”

Notre Dame got off to its usual slow start, not getting its first shot on Jones — a Cam Morrison shot from the boards — until the 5:06 mark after Penn State had fired the game’s first six shots at Morris.

Notre Dame got the first goal at 6:18 when Gross kept the puck in the Penn State zone at the blue line and fired it at Jones, who might have been distracted by Dylan Malmquist skating toward him. The puck went behind Jones for Gross’ eighth of the season, with assists to Malmquist and Cal Burke.

Then with Dawson Cook off the ice for cross checking at 10:08, Penn State tied it at 11:33 when Sucese banged home a rebound into an empty net after Morris had initially denied Biro’s in-close try.

But the Irish countered with a power-play goal at 14:03 with Penn State’s Brett Murray off for tripping. With one second remaining on the man-advantage, Matt Hellickson’s blast from the middle of the blue line was saved by Jones but the rebound fell onto Peeke’s stick. The Irish defenseman buried it behind Jones for his fifth goal of the year and a 2-1 Irish lead.

That lead lasted all of 90 seconds as Biro picked up a loose puck outside the Irish blue line with only Gross between him and Morris. Gross attempted to poke the puck away, missed and then slipped a bit, allowing Biro to fire two shots at Morris, the second going into the net at 15:33.

Notre Dame players celebrate the game-winning goal in their 3-2 win over Penn State in the Big Ten Tournament semifinal hockey game Saturday at Notre Dame. (Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)