For the first time since 2013, head coach Jeff Jackson and his Notre Dame Fighting Irish were playing for a conference championship. After last week’s semifinal thriller against the Penn State Nittany Lions, the Irish had been tested on how to come up big in the clutch. It took a Jack Jenkins goal with less than a minute left for the Irish to punch their ticket to the Big Ten Tournament final, where they saw the no.4 Ohio State Buckeyes, who they had faced four times in the regular season and with three victories to show for it.
For the Irish, ranked no.2 in the PairWise rankings coming into Saturday, winning the Big Ten Tournament would be validation that this team is as good as they’ve been given credit for. It took until their tenth conference game to finally lose to a Big Ten team. In addition to their outstanding play against their conference rivals, Notre Dame spent much of the season as the no.1 ranked team in the country, and cruised to a Big Ten regular season championship with five regular season games remaining on their schedule.
It seemed fitting that one of the biggest games in Fighting Irish hockey history would take place on St. Patrick’s Day. Not only was this game for a conference championship, but it was a showcase of two of the most feared teams in the nation. Many expected Saturday’s contest to be a low scoring affair, as goaltenders Cale Morris and Ohio State’s Sean Romeo finished the season with the two lowest goals against average in the conference.
Much to the surprise of Romeo and the Buckeyes, the game seemed like it would be all Irish early on. Just over four minutes into the game, Bo Brauer found the back of the net for his fifth goal of the season to give the Irish an early lead. The sell-out crowd at Compton Family Ice Arena was electric, and feeling confident about a Notre Dame squad that was 20-2-2 when scoring first this season.
About ten minutes after the Irish got on the board, the only penalty of the period came when Ohio State defenseman Tommy Parran was called for cross-checking. The mistake proved to be costly for the Buckeyes. On the man advantage, Matt Hellickson found the back of the net after a pass from Cal Burke.
Play is underway in the 2nd w/ the Irish on top 2-0!— Notre Dame Hockey (@NDHockey) March 18, 2018
Here's Matt Hellickson's tally, his third power-play goal of the season pic.twitter.com/05ZnROoaKn
After one period of play, the Irish defense held the Buckeyes to only seven shots, all of which were stopped by Morris. The second period would be a different story for the Ohio State offense. It was the Buckeyes who controlled the puck for most of the period. Things would get chippy early on in the period, when Joe Wegwerth and Ohio State’s Ronnie Hein were both sent to the penalty box for roughing. The game would remain 2-0 until forward Brendon Kearney got the Buckeyes on the board with a deflected point shot. Ohio State had a chance to tie it up with a brief man advantage when Andrew Oglevie was called for interference, but the game remained 2-1 heading into the final period.
Much like the period before it, the third saw Ohio State control the puck, getting shots on goal early and often. Just over a minute into the period, sophomore defenseman Matt Miller tied it up by scoring off a pass from Tanner Laczynski in front of a crowded net. The Buckeyes continued to put the pressure the Irish by out-shooting them 11-3 in the period when a timeout was taken with 4:40 to go. Morris, however, wasn’t letting anything past him, and the game would go into overtime.
The Irish had gone to overtime four times before Saturday’s contest, with a record of 1-1-2. In an overtime that saw plenty of back and forth rushes, it seemed like the Irish were running out of luck on this St. Patrick’s Day. They had two great scoring chances in the first ten minutes from Dennis Gilbert and Jack Jenkins, but the puck couldn’t find the back of the net. With 10:37 left in the extra period, a beautiful pass by Jake Evans to the neutral zone found Cam Morrison who fired a shot past Romeo to win it for the Irish and send the crowd at Compton into a frenzy.
The goal was Morrison’s third game-winning goal of the season and gave the Irish their first Big Ten Tournament championship in their first year in the conference. The victory also gave the Irish the #1 seed in the east regional, where they will take on the #4 seed Michigan Tech Huskies in Bridgeport this Friday. The tournament appearance in the third consecutive for the Irish, and tenth appearance in school history.
ND - Bo Brauer from Jake Evans and Bobby Nardella at 04:09 in the 1st
ND - Matt Hellickson from Cal Burke and Andrew Peeke at 14:30 in the 1st
OSU - Brendon Kearney from Matt Miller and Gordi Myer at 06:21 in the 2nd
OSU - Matt Miller from Tanner Laczynski at 01:07 in the 3rd
ND - Cam Morrison from Jake Evans and Dennis Gilbert at 09:23 in OT
ND - Cale Morris saved 41 of 43 shots
OSU - Sean Romeo saved 35 of 38 shots
OSU - Tommy Parran, 2 for cross-checking at 13:49 in the 1st
OSU - Ronnie Hein, 2 for roughing at 02:15 in the 2nd
ND - Joe Wegwerth, 2 for roughing at 02:15 in the 2nd
OSU - Team penalty, 2 for too many players on ice at 11:59 in the 2nd
ND - Andrew Oglevie, 2 for interference at 12:21 in the 2nd
- Cam Morrison
- Cale Morris
- Jake Evans
The #1 Irish will take on the #4 Michigan Tech Huskies in the NCAA tournament on Fri., Mar. 23