Ok, is everyone feeling a little better now?
The Notre Dame Fighting Irish (26-9-2, 17-6-1) pulled out a heart-pounding 4-3 victory over Michigan Tech in the NCAA East Regional Semifinal. The game might have been too much for some people to handle on a Friday afternoon. Notre Dame saw their entire season flash before their eyes when a Tech rush almost led to the puck trickling behind Morris and into the Irish goal. However, the puck was swatted away and just seconds later, a Huskie broken stick led to a Notre Dame rush. After a Cam Morrison breakaway was denied, the puck found defenseman Jordan Gross, who fired a shot into the goal to send Notre Dame to the next round and Irish fans everywhere into ecstasy.
Where: Webster Bank Arena, Bridgeport, CT
When: Saturday, March 24, 6 p.m. EST
Watch: ESPNU or on the WATCHESPN app.
The Irish and their fans will have an entire day to rest and prepare for their next game, the Regional Final on Saturday night against the Providence Friars (24-11-4, 13-7-4) with a trip to the Frozen Four on the line.
Tale of the Tape
The Providence Friars are headed by one of the best coaches in all of college hockey in Nate Leaman. Leaman is currently in his seventh season with the Friars after spending eight seasons behind the bench of the Union Dutchmen, where he won the 2011 Spencer Penrose Award, awarded annually to college hockey’s best head coach. Leaman has led Providence to five-consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, including winning the 2015 National Championship with a stunning upset over a Boston University team that featured current Buffalo Sabres star Jack Eichel. He also had a hand in recruiting many of the players on the Union team that won the 2014 National Championship, including current Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere.
Providence is a team that has many dangerous offensive weapons. Their leading scorer is junior left wing Erik Foley, who has registered 35 points in 36 games. Foley was a third round draft pick by the Winnipeg Jets in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, but his rights were recently traded to the St. Louis Blues in the deal that sent Paul Stastny to the Jets. Another player to watch out for is senior center Brian Pinho, a Washington Capitals draft pick, who has 31 points in 38 games this season. The Friars’ lone goal scorer in their 1-0 win over Clarkson in the Regional Semifinal was sophomore Kasper Bjorkqvist, a 2016 second-round pick by the Pittsburgh Penguins. Providence’s goalie Hayden Hawkey (yes, that’s his name) is one of the best goaltenders in college hockey and was selected in the sixth round of the 2014 draft by the Montreal Canadiens, one round before Notre Dame captain Jake Evans was picked by the Canadiens. Hawkey recorded 18 saves to shut out the Golden Knights in the Regional Semifinal.
Providence finished as the runner-up in the Hockey East tournament and hold the #7 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. Notre Dame, the #2 overall seed, is now the highest seeded team left in the field after #1 overall seed St. Cloud State was upset by Air Force 4-1 in the West Regional Semifinal. The winner of Saturday’s Providence-Notre Dame game will face the champion of the Northeast Region (featuring Cornell, Michigan, Northeastern and Boston University) in the Frozen Four Semifinal in Minneapolis on Thursday, April 5th.
The Last Time
The last time these two teams met each other was a year ago when they were both members of the Hockey East conference. Notre Dame swept Providence two-games-to-none in a best-of-three Hockey East Quarterfinal playoff series held at the Compton Family Ice Arena from March 10-11, 2017. The Irish blew out the Friars 5-0 in Game 1 of the series, then scored four goals in the 3rd period of Game 2 for a 5-2 victory to close out the series.
Former Notre Dame goaltender Cal Peterson made 43 saves in the Game 1 shutout win, while five different Notre Dame players each scored a goal during that same game. Cam Morrison recorded a goal and an assist in Game 2, while Andrew Oglevie added three assists in the clinching win. Hawkey recorded 20 saves in Game 1 and 33 saves in Game 2.
This is going to be a good one. Providence has been playing some of their best hockey at the right time of the season, while Notre Dame’s last three games were nail-biting one-goal victories. Two of them came in overtime, while the third one featured a timely goal by Jack Jenkins with 31 seconds left in regulation of Notre Dame’s 3-2 victory over Penn State in the Big Ten Semifinal.
Notre Dame will need to put forth a much better effort against Providence then they did against Michigan Tech. Against the Huskies, there were times where the Irish controlled the game, but also times they were on their heels desperately trying to regain the momentum. Providence is more of an offensive team than Michigan Tech was, so the Notre Dame defense, along with Morris, will have to be up to the task.
Notre Dame has been living dangerously close to the edge these last three weeks, but they’ve shown how resilient they are time after time. Whether it’s losing two separate leads against Penn State, or blowing a two-goal lead against Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship game, or allowing the tying goal with 1:06 left in regulation against Michigan Tech, in the end it didn’t matter. The Irish had an answer each time.
I believe they will have an answer again. Penn State, Ohio State and Michigan Tech were among the hottest teams in college hockey in the past month before Notre Dame brought them back down to Earth. After getting a small taste of the Frozen Four hockey last season, Jeff Jackson, Jake Evans and company will be hungry to get back there and finish what they started.
I predict Notre Dame will defeat Providence in overtime 3-2 to punch their ticket to their second consecutive Frozen Four.