Manchester, NH. – Lest anyone forgets that Notre Dame and Massachusetts have recent playoff history. The two faced off in South Bend, IN. for a Hockey East series in March 2015 that seen the Minutemen outlast the Irish in a five overtime 4-3 thriller. Notre Dame won the next two games to take the series. Tonight’s match-up is for a trip to Buffalo and the NCAA Frozen Four. It will be the first for the Minutemen and the third straight for the Fighting Irish.
The opening period was a physical, fast, paced back and forth affair. The Minutemen brought the early pressure but Cale Morris looked sharp. Filip Lindberg was tested on a two on one and the action was back up the other end as Morris had a save on Niko Hildenbrand. UMass had a scramble in front of Morris but couldn’t get a clean rebound. They had two chances drift just wide of the Irish goal roughly halfway through the period.
The Minutemen were around the Irish net all period, while Notre Dame was mostly getting looks from the outer edges of the UMass zone. A late Notre Dame flurry with time winding down was how the perio would end. UMass had the shot advantage 12-6 and Notre Dame was winning the face-offs 11-10.
The second period was a tour de force for the Minutemen. The period started off with back and forth play. UMass was doing the little things, like not giving up on an apparent icing to keep play alive. Ty Farmer had a nice look from the blueline that Morris kicked away through traffic around the 15:00 mark.
At 7:13 mark, Notre Dame’s Michael Graham was called for Hooking, giving the best power play remaining it’s first opportunity of the evening. It only took the Minutemen a matter of half a minute to solve Morris. A Jake Gaudet wrist shot from the lower right circle found it’s way past Morris for the 1-0 UMass lead at 7:49.
Notre Dame had a power play of their own at 8:04 when Marc Del Gaizo was called for Hooking. UMass killed it off with ease, which led to Massachusetts momentum. At 10:32 John Leonard picked up a rebound on a Brett Boeing chance, deked Morris and put the puck by him for the 2-0 lead.
UMass was thouroughly dominating the Irish and an Andrew Peeke High-Sticking call at 12:47 led to UMass peppering Morris, who held firm on this power play. Farmer and Tory Dello were assessed matching Roughing penalties at 14:33 giving the crowd four on four action.
With a face-off in the Notre Dame zone, Gaudet won the draw back to Del Gaizo, who passed along the blueline to Makar. Makar blasted a one-timer past Morris giving the UMass faithful in attendance a 3-0 lead and visions of upstate New York. At 15:42 Colin Felix was called for Roughing putting the Irish a man up. Lindberg snuffed everything out. He didn’t have to work too hard as Notre Dame managed only two shots for the entire second period. UMass even had a solid shorthanded chance as Boeing and Gaudet forced Morris to make back to back stops. The second would end with the Minutemen up 28-8 in the shot department.
The third opened with Notre Dame having some zip to their game but what little they could throw at Lindberg he was able to easily turn aside. The pace of play was slightly slower as time ticked off but the Minutemen were still in control. This was clearly UMass game. The Minutemen suffocated the Irish for most of the night. The period was rather anti-climatic as it became more enevitable that UMass had punched their ticket to the school’s first Frozen Four.
The 5679 in attendance, a majority UMass crowd, voiced their support with various chants of “Buffalo”, “Hobey Baker”, or “This is Awesome!” With 4:55 left in the game, UMass coach Greg Carvel called timeout to rest his players after an icing call.
At this point Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson decided to pull his goalie for the extra attacker in hopes of generating some offense. After a few failed attempts, the Minutemen were finally able to score the empty net goal when Oliver Chau outraced a Notre Dame defender to a loose puck and knocked out Notre Dame for good at 17:27. It was UMass’ second straight 4-0 shut-out of the NCAA Northeast Regional weekend. The Minutemen held the not so Fighting Irish to just 13 shots for the game, outshooting them 34-13.
“That was maybe as complete a game that we’ve played this year, and this weekend I thought we were out-standing for 120 minutes,” coach Carvel said of his Minutemen. “I thought we controlled the play for two complete games. The team obviously responded well from the loss last weekend at BC, which was discouraging, but this group has had a common purpose and it goes deeper than the team, it’s through our whole university.
“We knew we had a good team this year, we proved a lot of things throughout the year. But we always felt that people were waiting for us to trip and stumble and fall and we kind of did that at BC last weekend, but this weekend we redeemed our-selves. I’m extremely proud of this group, staff, players, administration, this is a first for our program and we didn’t stumble into this, we knocked the door down, and we’re headed to the Frozen Four flying high.”
Notre Dame’s Jackson spoke highly of his four departing seniors after the game.
“As far as over-all success they may be the most successful senior class that we’ve had,” Jackson said. “You give kids credit now-a-days when they stick around for four years and it always makes a big difference when you have good seniors. I think last year was probably the bigger indication for us. We had nine seniors, but this year with the four guys, it was unfortunate that we lost Joseph Wegwerth at Christmas time, that was a big loss, but Joe, Dylan, Bobby, and Jack are great kids.
“I’m extremely proud of them, they’ve had great careers. I told them in the locker room they have nothing to be ashamed about. They probably had the best careers as a class of ours at Notre Dame as far as NCAA tournaments and winning championships. They’ve certainly wore their jerseys with pride.”
Those four seniors, defenseman Bobby Nardella, and forwards Jack Jenkins, Joe Wegwerth, and Dylan Malmquist helped guide the Irish from Hockey East into the Bg Ten, went to four NCAA tournaments, two Frozen Fours, and won the Big Ten regular and tournament championships.
The Minutemen will next play in Buffalo on Thursday, April 11 at 5:00 or 8:30 pm. Their opponent will be the Denver Pioneers.