St. Paul, MN — Notre Dame and Michigan share one of college sport’s greatest rivalries. Their college football teams have written the record books on the gridiron. The competition hasn’t translated onto the ice until recently. Michigan has the most National Championships in the sport while Notre Dame demoted their team from varsity to club level in the early 1980’s. The teams are now on even footing talent-wise and are conference rivals in the Big 10. They split their season series and delivered on a thrilling Frozen Four matchup.
The opening period was even and well paced. Michigan only won the shot battle 10-9 and both goaltenders made excellent saves. The Wolverines did land the first blow near the half mark of the period. Dexter Dancs got the puck to Tony Calderone in the corner boards. The senior captain curled to the circle and fired a laser by Mike Richter nominee Cale Morris and gave Michigan a 1-0 lead that they carried into intermission.
An early bounce spelled good Wolverine fortune. Seventeen seconds into the period, Dexter Dancs threw a puck from the left goal line extended toward Morris’s crease. Notre Dame captain Jake Evans tried to knock the puck down with his hand but accidentally deflected it in for a 2-0 Wolverine lead. Many teams would cave after such an unfortunate bounce. Notre Dame is no such team.
The Irish rebounded immediately, capitalizing on a Joseph Cecconi holding minor. Nine seconds into the power play and 2:41 into the frame, Andrew Oglevie whistled a puck through Michigan netminder Hayden Lavigne for Notre Dame’s first goal. Less than four minutes later, Jake Evans continued the scoring with a one-timed blast from the high slot off a slick Jordan Gross feed. Notre Dame dominated the period, outshooting Michigan 15-7. Lavigne kept his poise late in the period and kept the game tied 2-2 into the second intermission.
Notre Dame got an early bounce in the third period. Dylan Malmquist and Cal Burke played a two on one rush perfectly with Burke dropping a puck through Lavigne for a 3-2 Irish lead 1:35 into the period. Michigan battled back, dominating the shots 11-5 in the period. Cale Morris held firm for most of the period but yielded late in the frame. Nick and Michael Pastujov peppered Morris on the doorstep with five minutes left. Morris made three saves consecutively, but Michael Pastujov mashed a puck through with 5:22 left in regulation. Overtime seemed inevitable. That is until Notre Dame showed their talent for late goal scoring again. Jack Jenkins won a puck to his defensive blue line. Cam Morrison lugged the puck through the neutral zone and threw it backhanded towards Lavigne. Jake Evans redirected the puck through the tender with 5.2 seconds left in the period. Michigan pulled the goaltender for a last ditched push, but could not get a shot away. Notre Dame won the game 4-3.
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The shocking fashion of the game’s ending caught Michigan off guard. The Wolverines were expecting overtime, but Head Coach Mel Pearson remained optimistic for his program’s future in the face of disappointment.
“I’m extremely proud of our team, especially our seniors,” Person said. “I thought as the game wore on there, we were starting to play. And unfortunately, it was just a bad bounce there at the end. But it’s good to be back here. Michigan will be back here again. And my only regret is I don’t have more time with the seniors. The seniors have been outstanding for us this year. And I wish I had them back for another few years.”
The Wolverines conclude their season with a 22-15-3 record. Few expected the team to reach the Frozen Four, let alone contend with Notre Dame for the length of the night. Dexter Dancs expressed that sentiment in the postgame.
“We didn’t have a strong year last year,” Dancs said. “A lot of people didn’t believe in us. But this team, everyone was so close and we had so much fun. It wasn’t the most talented team I’ve had in four years, but it was the best team and we just loved being around each other.”
Dancs is one of six graduating seniors. Cutler Martin, Alex Roos, Niko Porikos, Alternate Captain Sam Piazza, and Captain Tony Calderone will all graduate in May alongside Dancs. Cooper Marody, Joseph Cecconi, Quinn Hughes, and Nicholas Boka are also potential departures to the pros after the season. Regardless of the exact returning cast, winning hockey is back in Ann Arbor to stay with Mel Pearson.
Notre Dame runs their record to 28-9-2. The Irish have been a part of six consecutive one-goal games and won the last five. Coach Jeff Jackson joked with his team in the postgame about the tight games giving him frights. Andrew Oglevie joked about it after the game.
“He told us again tonight that he’s getting scar tissue or something on his heart, but I’m not going to apologize.” Jake Evans followed by musing “We keep winning. He can’t complain.”
Despite the jokes, Oglevie, Evans, and Jackson know the task at hand now. Notre Dame will face the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs in their attempt to claim the program’s first National Championship. Puck drops at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul at 6:30 pm CT on Saturday night.