Notre Dame works overtime for first Big Ten Tournament title

John Fineran
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND – The Quiet Captain, Jake Evans, let his hockey stick do his talking Saturday night for No. 3 Notre Dame.

The senior playmaker, who has been urged to shoot more by Irish coach Jeff Jackson, came up with a pair of assists, the second setting up sophomore left wing Cam Morrison’s 40-foot game-winner with 9:23 gone in overtime that gave the Irish a 3-2 victory over Ohio State in a clash between top seeds in the finals of the Big Ten Tournament.

A sellout crowd of 5,515 at the Compton Family Ice Arena soaked in the thrilling conclusion to ND’s first season of hockey membership in the Big Ten.

No. 1 seed Notre Dame, which had beaten Ohio State, 2-1, back on Feb. 9 to clinch the regular-season Big Title and a bye into the tourney semifinals, now awaits Sunday’s noon announcement of where it will begin play in the 16-team NCAA Tournament that starts next week.

“Great players make big plays at big moments,” Jackson said after seeing his team jump to a 2-0 lead after the first period before the Buckeyes tied it up to force the extra session. “We hung in there, we hung in there until we started playing again. It was a big play at a big moment.”

The Irish (25-9-2) will take a modest two-game winning streak into the NCAA Tournament as a top seed in one of the four regionals after ending the five-game winning streak by the Buckeyes (24-9-5), who also are headed to the tourney. The selection show will be carried by ESPNU starting at noon EDT.

The cerebral and quiet-talking Evans wasn’t available after the game and surprisingly also wasn’t named to the all-tournament team, released by the Big Ten, despite his two-assist effort. The team’s leading scorer, with 40 points, had assisted on Bo Brauer’s game-opening goal at 4:09 of the first period and now has a team-high 29 assists to go with 11 goals.

Freshman Matt Hellickson had a power-play goal as Notre Dame took a 2-0 lead after the first period. But the Irish surrendered goals to Buckeyes Brendon Kearney and Matt Miller in the second and third periods, respectively.

Once again, sophomore Cale Morris, the league’s Player and Goaltender of the Year, came up big, making 41 saves, 34 in the final 49:23 of regulation and overtime to outduel Ohio State’s Sean Romeo, who had 35 saves, 14 in the final 13 minutes of action, including eight in the extra session.

The game-winner by the 6-foot-3, 215-pound Morrison was his eighth goal of the season and third game-winner of the year. And it came after defenseman Dennis Gilbert fed a pass to Evans in the Irish defensive zone.

Evans skated into the neutral zone, drawing Buckeye defenders toward him. As they did, Evans spotted Morrison and fed him with a nifty cross-ice pass.

“It was a great pass by Jake, who found me going up the left wing, and I found an opportunity to shoot, and luckily it went in,” Morrison said.

The officials reviewed the play to make sure the Irish had been onside on the play. By the time they said it was good, the Irish were already celebrating.

“It was college hockey at its finest,” Big Ten Coach of the Year Steve Rohlik said after the disappointing loss left his Buckeyes runners-up to the Irish for the second time this season.

He’ll get no argument from Jackson, who once again credited Morris for his performance in net. The Irish netminder, named a Hobey Baker Award finalist earlier in the week, improved to 24-7-1 and 4-1 against the Buckeyes.

“He’s our rock,” Jackson said. “He’s going to have to get a new trophy case. The most important thing is he’s a very humble kid but very confident internally.”

Morris was named the tournament’s outstanding player and was joined on the all-tournament team by teammates Morrison and defenseman Jordan Gross. The Buckeyes had three players on the team — forwards Mason Jobst and Tanner Laczynski, and defenseman Matt Miller, who had a goal and assist against the Irish Saturday night.

Rohlik was forced to shuffle his lines coming into the game after losing left wing Matthew Weis, who scored the game-winner in overtime last Saturday as Ohio State beat Michigan 3-2, with a shoulder injury during a mid-week practice.

Evans was taking a shift with fourth-line wings Brauer and Joe Wegwerth when the Irish jumped out to a 1-0 lead. Defenseman Bobby Nardella got the puck at the point, skated in and then passed to Evans in the faceoff circle to Romeo’s right.

The Irish captain waited until Brauer found some space between Buckeye defenders Gordi Myer and Matt Miller. Evans, then fired on net. Brauer tipped it past Romeo at 4:09 for his fifth goal of the season and first against any team other than Penn State.

Brauer later would suffer an injury in the second period and would not return. His status for Notre Dame’s opening game in the NCAA Tournament is unknown.

The Irish made it 2-0 on a power-play goal by Hellickson, the freshman’s third this season with the Irish enjoying the man-advantage.

With Ohio State’s Tommy Parran off for cross checking, Hellickson’s defensive partner, Andrew Peeke, jumped high to keep an Ohio State clearing attempt in the zone.

He then shoveled the puck over to Hellickson who crossed the ice and swung a pass to Burke, who quickly returned it to Hellickson. His slap shot from 45 feet along the ice hit the far post and went behind Romeo at 14:30.

As good as the Irish were in the first period, the Buckeyes were in the first 10 minutes of the second period, outshooting the Irish 9-4. Notre Dame couldn’t clear its zone six minutes in, and it cost the Irish as Kearney tipped home a blast by Miller from the point, with Myer also receiving an assist at 6:21 to cut the Irish lead in half.

The Buckeyes tied it at 1:07 of the third period when Notre Dame again had trouble clearing the zone to get a line change. Miller scooped up a loose puck at the point, skated in and fired through a screen at Morris, who found the puck behind him when the play was over.

Laczynski assisted on Miller’s ninth of the season, and the Buckeyes clearly had the momentum.

Notre Dame, however, made a late bid to break the tie in the final three minutes of regulation. Romeo stopped Wegweth in close, then Andrew Oglevie and then Wegwerth twice more and finally Nardella.

Then in the final five seconds, Evans got the puck loose and slid it into the crease where Romeo covered, sending the teams to the locker room for overtime.

Both teams came out flying in the overtime, with the Irish getting a little better of the play. Romeo denied Dylan Malmquist’s good look in the first minute and then made saves on Morrison and Jack Jenkins before Gilbert blasted a shot off the left post at 3:40. The Ohio State goalie then denied Nardella and Jenkins on the rebound at 7:50.

But he couldn’t stop Morrison, whose shot beat him to the glove side.

Notre Dame's Cam Morrison, left, celebrates his game-winning goal in overtime during the Big Ten hockey championship game, Saturday at the Compton Family Ice Arena. (Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)