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Monday, March 4, 2024
The Observer

Notre Dame falls to UMass Lowell in Hockey East semifinals

Notre Dame swept Providence in the second round of the Hockey East playoffs over the first weekend of break to reach the semifinals at Boston’s TD Garden for only the second time, but the Irish fell flat against the bane of their brief Hockey East existence — UMass Lowell — on Friday.

The Providence sweep solidified Notre Dame (21-11-5, 12-6-4 Hockey East) at No. 13 in the final Pairwise rankings though, and the selection committee awarded the Irish the No. 4 seed in the Northeast regional of the NCAA tournament. Notre Dame will face off against the region’s top seed — and future Big Ten foe — Minnesota on Saturday.

Irish freshman forward Cam Morrison fights for the puck during Notre Dame's 5-2 win over Providence on March 11 at Compton Family Ice Arena.
Irish freshman forward Cam Morrison fights for the puck during Notre Dame's 5-2 win over Providence on March 11 at Compton Family Ice Arena.
Irish freshman forward Cam Morrison fights for the puck during Notre Dame's 5-2 win over Providence on March 11 at Compton Family Ice Arena.

Notre Dame and Minnesota did not play this year, but the teams have played eight non-conference games against each other over the last five years; Minnesota owns the 5-3 edge in wins.

“Every time I’ve played them my freshman and sophomore year, it was a skilled, fast team,” Irish junior forward Jake Evans said Sunday after the tournament bracket was announced. “It’s fun hockey.”

“We know the quality of team that they are and the skill that they bring to the table,” Irish head coach Jeff Jackson said Sunday. “They’re very skilled and they play with pace. They’re a fast team. They’re a good transition team. They’ve got a lot of weapons.”

When Notre Dame welcomed Providence (22-11-5, 12-7-3) to Compton Family Ice Arena for the second round of the conference playoffs, it was the second time in three weeks the two teams met at the venue. The Irish pulled out a 4-1 victory in game one of that regular season series before overcoming three different one-goal deficits to force a 3-3 tie in the second game.

With a trip to Boston on the line, the playoff series followed a similar path: Notre Dame cruised to a 5-0 victory in Game 1 before squeezing by in Game 2, 5-2, to complete the sweep.

The Irish benefited from a few lucky bounces and an off-night for Friar freshman goaltender Hayden Hawkey in Game 1, but the Friars struck first midway through the second period in Game 2.

Irish freshman forward Cam Morrison knotted things up on a power play just over two minutes later, and junior defenseman Jordan Gross put Notre Dame ahead just 21 seconds into the third period on a seeing-eye shot from the point. Sophomore blueliner Bobby Nardella found the back of the net seven minutes later to put the Irish on top 3-1.

A Providence goal midway through the third period brought the Friars within one, but sophomore forward Dylan Malmquist added a pair of empty-net goals for the misleading final 5-2 margin.

“We knew it was going to be a tough weekend,” Nardella said after Notre Dame’s clinching win over the Friars. “They’re a good team; they play really hard all the time.

“ … It’s a really good feeling right now.”

“This group’s really figured it out here in the second half of the season,” Jackson said that night.  “ … We had probably the toughest job in the country, as far as playoff round, playing one of the hottest teams in the country.”

Sophomore forward Jack Jenkins staked Notre Dame to an early lead against UMass Lowell (26-10-3, 14-7-1) in Boston on St. Patrick’s Day.

But there was no luck to be found the rest of the way for the Irish.

The River Hawks tied the game 25 seconds after Jenkins’ goal and then took the lead for good just over two minutes later. UMass Lowell added two more goals in the second period and another early in the third to kill any chance at a Notre Dame comeback.

The River Hawks also more than doubled Notre Dame in shots, 41-20.

“They certainly create a lot of pressure to make bad decisions,” Jackson said after the loss to UMass Lowell. “We were our own worst enemy tonight. We made a lot of turnovers in key areas of the ice and in our coverage in our defensive zone.

“[It is] familiar territory for us. UMass Lowell is a great team and they certainly have our number.”

The numbers back Jackson’s claim: UMass Lowell has compiled a 9-2-2 mark against the Irish since the beginning of Notre Dame’s tenure in Hockey East. UMass Lowell also went on to win the Hockey East championship, defeating Boston College in the final, 4-3.

If Notre Dame fans were hoping it would be a while before the Irish ran into the River Hawks again though, they might want to jump on the Cornell bandwagon in the NCAA tournament’s Northeast regional: Should the Irish get by the Gophers (23-11-3, 14-5-1 Big Ten) on Saturday, they would meet the winner of the game between the No. 3 seed Big Red and UMass Lowell, the region’s No. 2 seed, for a trip to the Frozen Four.

The puck drops for Notre Dame and Minnesota on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. in Manchester, New Hampshire.