Jake Evans goal in final seconds pushes Notre Dame hockey past Michigan

John Fineran
Tribune Correspondent

SAINT PAUL, Minn. – Notre Dame’s heart-stopping hockey team will play for its first NCAA championship Saturday night thanks to another late-second miracle, this one provided by its captain.

Trailing 2-0 against Big Ten rival Michigan, the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Jake Evans, a Toronto native, assisted on his team’s first goal, scored the game-tying goal in the second period and provided the game-winner with 5.2 seconds left in regulation for an eventual 4-3 semifinal victory over the Wolverines Thursday night before 18,026 in the Xcel Energy Center.

Notre Dame’s fifth victory in a row — three in the last 30 seconds of regulation and two in overtime — sends Jeff Jackson’s top-ranked Irish (28-9-2) into Saturday’s Frozen Four championship game against old nemesis Minnesota Duluth (24-16-3), a 2-1 winner over Ohio State, the third Big Ten team in the field, in the earlier semifinal Thursday.

The last time the Frozen Four was here, in 2011, Duluth beat the Irish 4-3 in the semifinals before beating Michigan, 3-2, in overtime. Coach Scott Sandelin’s Bulldogs, ironically, owe Notre Dame some thanks because it was Notre Dame’s 3-2 overtime victory over Ohio State in the Big Ten tournament championship that knocked Duluth’s National Collegiate Hockey Conference rival North Dakota and Irish Big Ten rival Minnesota from this year’s 16-team NCAA field in favor of Duluth.

Under the 62-year-old Jackson, who coached Lake Superior State to a pair of NCAA titles in the early 1990s, the Irish have reached four Frozen Fours and will be playing for the championship for the second time. In 2008, Boston College beat the Irish 4-1 in the championship game in Denver.

“My heart is becoming callused,” Jackson said of the latest heart-stopper for his team.

“We keep winning, he can’t complain,” chuckled Evans, who assisted on junior center Andrew Oglevie’s power-play goal at 2:41 of the second period that began the Irish comeback after Michigan led 2-0 on goals by two members of its Skate-D.M.C. line — right wing Tony Calderone and left wing Dexter Dancs.

“Coach told us after the game he’s getting scar tissue … but I’m not going to apologize,” joked Oglevie, who started the play that led to Cal Burke’s goal at 1:35 of the third period.

Burke gave the Irish a 3-2 lead before Michael Pastujov’s goal at 14:38 for Michigan looked like it would send the game into overtime.

But it didn’t. Jack Jenkins, whose game-winning goal with 31 seconds remaining March 10 beat Penn State, 3-2, in the Big Ten semifinals to start the current streak, started the game-winning rush by getting the puck out of the Irish zone to Evans.

Evans then fed a streaking Cam Morrison, who scored the game-winning goal in overtime on March 17 when the Irish beat Ohio State to add the Big Ten playoff title to the regular-season one they earned in their first year in the league.

Morrison took it down the left boards, with Michigan defender Joseph Cecconi hanging all over him. Morrison then shoveled a pass in front of Michigan goalie Hayden Lavigne to Evans, who had freshman defender Quinn Hughes draped all over him.

“I thought Cam would have a chance at getting a shot or just going hard to the net,” Evans said, “and I knew there was a little bit of time left, so I thought I’d give it one last rush. Cam just did a really good job of putting it out there for me.”

Evans directed the puck under Lavigne and then skated to the Irish bench to celebrate with his teammates. Five-plus seconds later, the Irish were off to the championship game, and Michigan, which had won nine of 10 coming into the game, ended its first season under coach Mel Pearson at 22-15-3.

Lavigne and his Irish counterpart, sophomore Cale Morris, a leading candidate for the Mike Richter Goaltender of the Year award that will be handed out Friday, both finished with 25 saves. Morris had to make 10 to Lavigne’s three in the final 20 minutes as Michigan overcame a bad second period. The Irish outshot the Wolverines 29-28, but Michigan had a 40-22 edge in faceoffs, usually an Irish strength.

“I want to take a moment to congratulate Notre Dame, Jeff Jackson, their staff and their team,” Pearson said after Notre Dame won the fifth game this season between the two teams following a 2-2 split of the first four. “They did a great job all year and I wish them all the best.”

Notre Dame’s best scoring opportunity of the first period came at 6:38 when Dylan Malmquist, a former standout at nearby Edina High School whose game-winning goal against Providence in the NCAA East Regional punched the ticket for the Irish to be here, sent right wing Cal Burke in alone on Lavigne. The Michigan goalie made the save to keep the game scoreless.

Less than two minutes later, however, Michigan took a 1-0 lead at 8:19. With Dancs occupying Notre Dame defenseman Dennis Gilbert to Morris’ left, Calderone skated into the faceoff circle and fired a shot low to the stick side of the screened Irish goalie.

Michigan made it 2-0 just 17 seconds into the second period when Dancs got a loose puck along the boards and sent it toward the Irish net. Gilbert was trying to disrupt center Cooper Marody in front, but the puck went off the Irish defenseman and into the net for an unassisted goal for Dancs.

But then the Irish woke up. Evans forced Cecconi to take a holding penalty at 2:32 and nine seconds later, Evans fed Oglevie in the faceoff circle to Lavigne’s right, and the junior center beat the Michigan goalie along the ice at 2:41 to cut the score to 2-1. Defenseman Jordan Gross picked up the first of his two assists.

Then with Michigan’s Hughes and Notre Dame’s Colin Theisen serving roughing penalties, Gross fed Evans deep in the slot and the Irish captain slapped the puck past Lavigne at 6:20 to tie the game at 2-2.

Morris made three saves in the first minute of the third period before his teammates got a shot at Lavigne, and when they did, they scored to take a 3-2 lead. Oglevie started the play, carrying the puck out of the Irish zone and feeding Malmquist going into the zone with Burke, who got around Michigan defenseman Sam Piazza. Malmquist made a perfect pass to Burke, who directed it behind Lavigne at 1:35 and the Irish had their first lead of the night.

The Wolverines refused to go away and tied it when Michael Pastujov had two whacks at a loose puck in front of Morris and scored on the second at 14:38.

But as they have done routinely, the Irish saved their best for the final 30 seconds.

The captain comes through with only seconds to spare to win the game for the Fighting Irish!!

— NCAA Ice Hockey (@NCAAIceHockey) April 6, 2018

Notre Dame's Jake Evans (18) controls the puck as Michigan's Nick Pastujov (91) and Nicholas Boka (74) defend during the second period of a semifinal in the NCAA men's Frozen Four college hockey tournament Thursday, April 5, 2018, in St. Paul, Minn. (AP Photo/Stacy Bengs)