It took 59 minutes and 29 seconds of play until Notre Dame Fighting Irish hockey fans could breathe a sigh of relief on Saturday, but Jack Jenkins’s goal just before the end of regulation secured Notre Dame’s spot in the Big Ten Tournament final. By winning the conference regular season championship, the Irish will host the two-seed Ohio State Buckeyes on Sat. Mar. 17th at 8:00 PM ET.
Jeff Jackson’s squad will look to win their first conference championship since 2013, when they won the now-defunct Central Collegiate Hockey Association championship. The 2013 victory was an historic one for the Irish, as it marked the final season for the CCHA, which included their opponents on Saturday as well as other Big Ten rivals, Michigan Wolverines and Michigan State Spartans.
It’s no secret that the Irish had hit a bump in the road coming into postseason play. Losers of four of their last five, there were concerns that Notre Dame might not live up to the hot start they had from the beginning of the season through mid-January. While it did take a last minute goal to defeat the Penn State Nittany Lions, the victory was encouraging that the Irish are ready for the bright lights.
An inside look at our dramatic 3-2 win over Penn State in the Big Ten Tournament semifinal! pic.twitter.com/PTfSv7sgIe— Notre Dame Hockey (@NDHockey) March 12, 2018
The victory came over a Penn State team that won five straight heading into Compton Family Ice Arena on Saturday. What’s even more impressive is that their four most recent wins all came against the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Their goaltender had a career game on Saturday, but the Irish offense refused to give up. They’ve been battle-tested for this Saturday’s St. Patrick’s Day matchup for the conference championship.
Where: Compton Family Ice Arena, Notre Dame, IN
When: Saturday, Match 17, 8:00 PM EDT
Watch: Big Ten Network
Tale of the Tape
While you may have other plans on the night of St. Patrick’s Day, I promise this will be a game you won’t want to miss. Coming into Saturday, Pairwise has Notre Dame (24-9-2) ranked number 2 and Ohio State (24-8-5) ranked number 4. It’s seemed all year these two teams would be destined to meet in the Big Ten Tournament final, and here we are. Aside from finishing first and second in the regular season Big Ten standings, respectively, Notre Dame and Ohio State bring plenty of star power to Saturday’s game.
For the Irish, we’ve talked all season about how amazing of a year goaltender Cale Morris is having. On Wednesday, he was named was one of the ten finalists for the Hobey Baker Award. It’s worth noting that Morris was one of only two goalies that have made it that far in the voting. On the offensive end, forward Dylan Malmquist has been hot, with two assists in the semifinal victory over Penn State. He and the rest of the Irish hockey team will have their work cut out for them, the Buckeyes have allowed only 77 goals this season. Out of all Big Ten teams, only the Irish have allowed fewer, but Ohio State has played in two more games.
You’ll have a tough time finding a pair of forwards on the same team that are more intimidating than Tanner Laczynski and Mason Jobst. Both Buckeyes forwards have scored more than 40 points this season, which is something that no one on the Notre Dame roster can say. Laczynski took four shots and had an assist in Saturday’s victory over Michigan. The two skaters have been on separate lines, so Morris will need to continue his outstanding play all night long.
The Last Time
At this point, this teams are no strangers to each other. Notre Dame’s first ever Big Ten opponent in hockey was Ohio State back in early November. The Irish swept the Buckeyes by scores of 4-1 and 3-2 in Columbus. They didn’t meet again until 3 months later, when they split the series in South Bend. The second game, which was won by Ohio State 5-1, saw eleven different Buckeyes record points. It got so ugly that Morris was pulled for freshman Dylan St. Cyr midway through the third period.
In terms of excitement, it will be hard to top Saturday’s semifinal victory over Penn State. Coming into the game, I didn’t know what to expect. Sure, Notre Dame had struggled toward the end of the regular season, but this was a team that celebrated a conference regular season title with five games left to play. It was clear they took the time off to get energized, as they had 47 shots on goal. A loss would’ve been crushing, considering how hard they fought to match the grit of Penn State, but Jack Jenkins’s goal near the end of regulation gave them the spark they needed. They have plenty of momentum and are feeling just as good as an Ohio State team that just took care of their biggest rival. I’m expecting a raucous crowd to give the Irish a nice home ice advantage on Saturday.
I predict Notre Dame will finish what they started and win the Big Ten Tournament in their inaugural Big Ten season. Irish eyes will be smiling this St. Patrick’s Day.
Thank you to Bill Mangan - owner of Mangan’s Irish Hut in Macomb County – for this superb performance of “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” during today’s Detroit St. Patrick’s Parade pic.twitter.com/WewV8Er52F— Senator Gary Peters (@SenGaryPeters) March 11, 2018