After how the Big Ten tournament played out for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, it almost seemed imminent that Friday’s opening round game of the NCAA Tournament against the Michigan Tech Huskies would be a thriller. The Huskies were on fire, winning three straight in their conference tournament and looking to knock off a Notre Dame squad that was the top seed in the East. It was Notre Dame who upset the top-seeded Minnesota Golden Gophers in last year’s NCAA Tournament, on their way to the Frozen Four.
A big reason for Michigan Tech’s recent success was junior goaltender Patrick Munson. Against a Notre Dame team that has shown all season that they’re very good in front of the net, Munson showed early on that his great play in the WCHA tournament was no fluke. Unlike his counterpart, Cale Morris, the Michigan Tech goaltender started seeing shots early and often, but wouldn’t let the Irish jump out to the early lead.
It became apparent early on that the officials were going to let these two teams play by not being too trigger happy with penalties. In the first period, the Huskies did a great job of winning draws and drawing coverage from the Irish, but managed only four shots on goal. There was little offense from either team in the first. Midway through the period, the Irish went over five minutes without a shot on goal and the game remained scoreless going into first intermission.
The Huskies got on the board first, 1:13 into the second period when a great Seamus Donohue outlook pass found Joel L’Esperance who was able to keep the puck away from Jordan Gross and find the back of the net. Michigan Tech continued to win battles down low. Shortly after the goal, the Huskies nearly made it 2-0 when Raymond Brice found a loose puck in front of the net, but Morris made the big stop for the Irish.
Despite being down early, coach Jeff Jackson and the Irish did what they’ve done all year. They didn’t panic and maintained the same style of play. A crazy bounce behind Munson led to Dylan Malmquist finding a loose puck and putting it past the unsuspecting Huskies goaltender to even the contest just 1:14 after the Huskies took the lead. The game remained tied until Joe Wegwerth won a physical battle in front of the net for a second chance goal put Notre Dame up 2-1, thanks to a beautiful pass from Colin Theisen.
Joe Wegwerth gives Notre Dame its first lead off a touch pass from O'Leary right in front of the net.— NCAA Ice Hockey (@NCAAIceHockey) March 23, 2018
Notre Dame leads 2-1 with 13 minutes remaining in the 2nd period. #NCAAHockey pic.twitter.com/cWOmGLeIpa
The first penalty of the game when Cal Burke was called for interference. As the Irish were out-numbered in front of their own net, Burke had to haul down a Husky to prevent a huge scoring chance. The Irish were able to kill off the penalty, and the game remained 2-1 after sixty minutes of play.
Shortly after the third period, the Irish once again found themselves in a tie game, this time with a Michigan Tech team that had only one victory when trailing after two periods this season. Gavin Gould found a puck laying near the crease and put it in a wide open next, thanks to Morris being distracted by Huskies leading scorer Jake Lucchini. Not long after the Huskies tied it up, their defenseman Mitch Meek was called for holding at 2:32. The Irish got a couple shots on goal, but couldn’t use the man advantage to regain the lead.
Notre Dame again found themselves on the power-play when Mitch Reinke was called for cross-checking. This time, however, the Irish would capitalize. A one-timer from Gross gave the Irish a 3-1 with over thirteen minutes remaining in regulation. The rocket shot was never even seen by Munson, as there was too much traffic in front of the net. Midway through the third period, Michigan Tech continued to get great scoring chances, but the game would remain tied and they would be forced to pull Munson for the extra attacker with 1:16 remaining in regulation.
The man advantage proved to be successful for the Huskies. With just sixty-six seconds remaining in regulation, Jake Jackson got Gross to cross-over, which led to him going wide and evening the score for Michigan Tech. The goal would ensure that for the second straight game, Notre Dame would be headed to overtime.
The Irish quickly started the extra period with multiple scoring chances. Malmquist, Wegwerth and Morrison at one point almost became the hero, but Munson and the Huskies defense did an outstanding job of not letting anything in.
You couldn’t ask for a more exciting final four minutes of a hockey game. The Irish defense was looking tired, and the Huskies, with five fresh skaters, did a great job of keeping the puck in their zone. Their last scoring opportunity came when there was a loose puck in front of an empty net, but there was no one there to knock it home.
After the missed opportunity, the Huskies looked as if they were getting one more chance to win it and move on, but the stick of a Michigan Tech defenseman broke on a slapshot. This allowed Cam Morrison to puck up the puck and get it in the Michigan Tech zone, where Gross floated a wrist shot in the air that found the back of the net, and the Irish move on to the East regional final, for a chance to return to the Frozen Four.
MTU - Joel L’Esperance from Seamus Donohue and Jake Lucchini at 01:13 in the 2nd
ND - Dylan Malmquist from Andrew Oglevie at 03:40 in the 2nd period
ND - Joe Wegwerth from Colin Theisen and Mike O’Leary at 07:04 in the 2nd period
MTU - Gavin Gould from Jake Lucchini and Seamus Donohue at 00:56 in the 3rd period
ND - Jordan Gross from Bobby Nardella and Andrew Oglevie at 06:19 in the 3rd period
MTU - Jake Jackson from Dylan Steman and Brent Baltus at 18:54 in the 3rd period
ND - Jordan Gross from Jake Evans and Jack Jenkins at 16:24 in overtime
ND - Cale Morris stopped 36 of 39 shots
MTU - Patrick Munson stopped 28 of 32 shots
ND - Cal Burke, 2 for interference at 08:35 in the 2nd
MTU - Mitch Meek, 2 for holding at 02:32 in the 3rd
MTU - Mitch Reinke, 2 for cross-checking at 05:16 in the 3rd
- Jordan Gross
- Gavin Gould
- Justin Wade
The #1 Irish will take on the winner of the #2 Providence Friars vs. #3 Clarkson Golden Knights in the East regional final of the NCAA Tournament on Sat., Mar. 24 at 6:00 PM EDT