Morris, Morrison write familiar script as Irish win Big Ten again

John Fineran
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND – For the second straight season, Notre Dame’s hockey team followed a familiar script to win the Big Ten Tournament Championship: Let Cam Morrison score the game-winning goal and let goalie Cale Morris stop the other team from scoring it.

Saturday before a standing-room-only crowd of 5,988 — the largest ever to pack the Lefty Smith Rink at the Compton Family Ice Arena — the 16th-ranked Irish scored a 3-2 victory over Penn State to claim the Big Ten’s automatic berth into the NCAA tournament.

Morrison, a 6-foot-3, 215-pound junior from Aurora, Ontario, whose overtime goal a season ago provided the Irish a 3-2 victory over Ohio State in their inaugural Big Ten season, got the game-winner at 18:24 of the second period off assists from Mike O’Leary and Bobby Nardella.

“We’ve really come together as a team,” Morrison said. “It’s just so awesome to see what everyone gives.”

Then junior goalie Morris, an All-American and the Mike Richter Goaltender of the Year in leading the Irish to their second straight Frozen Four, made 12 saves in the final period on his way to a 46-save performance that won him the tournament’s Most Valuable Player award.  He allowed just three goals and made 126 saves in the four tournament victories.

“I wasn’t happy giving up two in the first, but the guys battled back and got the third one and we just locked it down,” Morris said. “It was a big team effort.”

The triumph was the 500th in the 20-year career of Irish coach Jeff Jackson who along with his 22-13-3 team will learn early Sunday evening where the NCAA selection committee will send them to begin the quest for the modern program’s first national title in 51 years. Jackson earned two titles in the 1990s at Lake Superior State.

“My gut needs some antacid,” Jackson said afterward. “I’m extremely proud of the kids. The last month we really started to come into form. We’ve played really good hockey over the last eight weeks and it didn’t always show in the results. But once we got to the playoffs, our goaltender got dialed in, our defense got better and, as all year, (we got) timely scoring.”

Freshman Spencer Stastney and Cal Burke scored first-period goals for the Irish, who never trailed against the team from shot-Happy Valley which outshot Notre Dame 48-29 in the game. Sam Sternschein and Alec Marsh answered the Irish goals, respectively, in the first period. Goalie Peyton Jones finished with 26 saves for Guy Gadowsky’s Nittany Lions, who closed their season at 22-15-2.

Morrison, Stastney and Morris were joined by Irish captain and defenseman Andrew Peeke as well as Penn State forwards Liam Folkes and Alex Limoges, who were held without a point, on the All-Big Ten Tournament team.

Stastney, a freshman who has stepped up his game in the last month, opened the scoring when he took a pass from Graham Slaggert out of the Irish defensive zone, weaved down the center of the ice into the Penn State zone, cut to his right and then beat Jones with a backhander at 3:43 of the opening period.

The Lions tied it at 8:04 when Sternschein batted home a rebound of 6-foot-8 center Nikita Pavlychev’s shot after Morris stopped Denis Smirnov on a breakaway just seconds before.

Smirnov had another good try from the slot that Morris turned aside and Burke was called for slashing Smirnov at 9:49. Morris stopped Ludvig Larsson with Pavlychev on the doorstep and then robbed Chase Berger at the doorstep during the midst of an 8-0 run of Penn State shots.

But the Irish killed off Burke’s penalty, and he and linemate Colin Theisen gave Penn State fits on a later shift. Peeke sent a shot toward the net that Jones saved but Burke jumped on the rebound for a 2-1 lead at 16:19.

That lead lasted 34 seconds when Marsh directed the puck home following another scramble in front of Morris, who ended up in the net moments after the puck.

Notre Dame had a power-play chance late when Larsson went off for slashing Morris at 17:31. Though the Irish pressured him, Jones turned away three Irish shots and the period ended 2-2.

Morris came up with 18 saves in the second period, making three on an early Penn State power play. Then he stopped Larsson and Smirnov on the rebound at 12:04. Marsh tested Morris in the 15th minute but was denied as well.

Finally with under two minutes to go, the Irish made it 2-1 when Morrison got a pass from center Mike O’Leary and carried it into the Penn State zone. Using defenseman Alex Stevens as a screen and with Graham jumping into the air to tip the puck, Morrison’s shot got past Jones at 18:24 to give the Irish a 3-2 heading into the final period.

“I saw the defenseman was between me and the goalie and tried to get it around him and it went in,” Morrison said.

It gave the Irish momentum going to the locker room and Jackson made sure they wouldn’t lose it.

“I told them there would be ups and downs in the third and just be emotionally in control,” Jackson said.

The Irish got defensive in the third period by getting offensive, outshooting the Nittany Lions 6-3 in the first 13 minutes. During that span, O’Leary jumped through the air to knock a puck away from the Irish goal while Morris was out of position.

Notre Dame then got some help from Penn State which received a bench penalty for too many men on the ice at 13:33. The Irish didn’t get off a shot at Jones, but the two minutes kept the Nittany Lions at bay. When it was over, Penn State mounted its final assault on Morris, who made seven saves in a little over two minutes and eight to finish the game as Gadowsky twice pulled Jones for an extra attacker.

“I want to say congratulations to Notre Dame — they did it again,” Gadowsky said. “We have to learn from them.”

NOTRE DAME 3, PENN STATE 2

Lefty Smith Rink at Compton Family Ice Arena, South Bend

Penn State;2;0;0—2

Notre Dame;2;1;0—3

First Period—Scoring: 1. Notre Dame, Spencer Stastney 1 (Graham Slaggert) 3:43 (even); 2. Penn State, Sam Sternschein 9 (Nikita Pavlychev, Evan Bell) 8:04 (even); 3. Notre Dame, Cal Burke 12 (Colin Theisen, Andrew Peeke) 16:19 (even); 4. Penn State, Alec Marsh 7 (Brandon Biro, Chase Berger) 16:53 (even). Penalties: Penn State 1-2, Notre Dame 1-2.

Second Period—Scoring: 5. Notre Dame, Cam Morrison 10 (Mike O’Leary, Bobby Nardella) 18:24 (even). Penalties (total): Penn State 0-0 (1-2), Notre Dame 1-2 (2-4).

Third Period—Scoring: None. Penalties (total): Penn State 1-2 (2-4), Notre Dame 0-0 (0-0).

Power-play opportunities—Penn State 0 of 2, Notre Dame 0 of 2.

Shots on goal—Penn State 18-18-12—48, Notre Dame 12-10-7—29.

Goalie saves—Penn State, Peyton Jones 10-9-7—26; Notre Dame, Cale Morris 16-18-12—46.

A: 5,988 (new record). Time: 2:23. Records: Penn State 22-15-2; Notre Dame 22-13-3.

College tournaments

BIG TEN

At South Bend / Lefty Smith Rink at Compton Family Ice Arena

Saturday, March 23 championship

Notre Dame 3, Penn State 2

ATLANTIC HOCKEY

At Buffalo, N.Y. / The Rinks at HarborCenter

Friday, March 22 semifinals

American International 3, Robert Morris 2 (OT)

Niagara 1, RIT 0 (OT)

Saturday, March 23 championship

American International 3, Niagara 2 (OT)

HOCKEY EAST

At Boston, Mass. / TD Garden

Friday, March 22 semifinals

Northeastern 2, Boston University 1 (OT)

Boston College 3, Massachusetts 0

Saturday, March 23 championship

Northeastern 3, Boston College 2

ECAC HOCKEY

At Lake Placid, N.Y. / 1980 Rink at Herb Brooks Arena

Friday, March 22 semifinals

Cornell 6, Brown 0

Clarkson 5, Harvard 2

Saturday, March 23 championship

Clarkson 3, Cornell 2 (OT)

WESTERN COLLEGIATE HOCKEY ASSOCIATION

At Mankato, Minn. / Verizon Wireless Center

Saturday, March 23 championship

Minnesota State 3, Bowling Green 2 (OT)

NATIONAL COLLEGIATE HOCKEY CONFERENCE

At Saint Paul, Minn. / Xcel Energy Center

Friday, March 22 semifinals

St. Cloud State 5, Colorado College 2

Minnesota Duluth 3, Denver 0

Saturday, March 23 finals

Minnesota Duluth 3, St. Cloud State 2 (2OT) (championship)

Denver 6, Colorado College 1 (consolation)

Notre Dame's Cale Morris makes a stop as Penn State's Ludvig Larrison tries to shoot during the Big Ten hockey championship game Saturday night in South Bend.