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Saturday, May 25, 2024
The Observer

Overtime hero Drew Bavaro leads Irish into postseason

The storied hockey rivalry between Notre Dame and Michigan has produced some iconic late-game heroics over the years. Think of Calle Ridderwall’s overtime goal that sent the upstart Irish to the 2008 national championship in Denver. Perhaps instead Jake Evans’ game-winner with 3.7 seconds left in the 2018 Frozen Four semifinal first comes to mind. Even as recent as last year, the series has produced some dramatic game-winning goals. Forwards then junior Max Ellis and then sophomore Ryder Rolston scored in overtime on consecutive nights to give the Irish a sweep of the Wolverines in Ann Arbor just a season ago.

The list of epic moments between the two rivals is long. And this past weekend at Yost Ice Arena, the list got longer. The latest to add his name to the pantheon of great moments: junior defenseman Drew Bavaro.

Playing in the final game of the Big Ten regular season Saturday night at Michigan, Notre Dame needed just two points to secure home ice in the first round of the Big Ten tournament. By the end of regulation, the score was tied at one, giving the Irish at least one point. Home ice advantage hung in the balance of overtime.

“It kinda developed into a slow two-on-two, and [Irish senior forward Trevor Janicke] did a great job getting to the net,” Bavaro remembered of the moments just before his game-winning overtime goal in the 2-1 Irish win. “I think that took out the defender, he thought it was kinda like a two-on-one, so I think he left his feet a little early. I just tried to get it on goal, and luckily it went in … on the third whack.”

Bavaro’s hack-and-whack heroics silenced a stunned Michigan crowd and set up a date with Michigan State in the first round of the Big Ten tournament this weekend. For Barvaro, the goal was a milestone moment both in this rollercoaster season and in his hockey career.

“It’s definitely the top hockey moment I’ve had, especially just because of how much that meant for our team. We wanted to clinch home ice so bad, we knew it was kinda in our hands. I was just happy that I could contribute to that and get us this advantage this weekend,” Bavaro said. “I actually called my mom right after the game, and she was kinda in shock, just as I was — kinda, ‘what just happened?’” Bavaro, who transferred from Bentley University over the summer, said.

“If you would’ve told me last year that I woulda’ been able to be in this position, I woulda’ told you you’re crazy,” he added.

That Bavaro would score the seminal goal of Notre Dame’s season to date indeed would have seemed a bit unlikely at this point last year, to say the least. After all, he wasn’t even on the Irish roster 365 days ago. Instead, Bavaro was playing with the Falcons of the Atlantic Hockey Association. He put up nine goals and 18 assists in his second season with Bentley last year.

“I couldn’t have been more happy with my time at Bentley. I think they gave me an opportunity when not many people did,” Bavaro said. “I wasn’t a very highly recruited kid. I was on a good high school team with a lot of the BU, BC, Northeastern commits. I always thought I was a pretty good player, but maybe I was a little overshadowed in that aspect.”

“Part of the reason he came here is for the opportunity to play in a Big Ten environment and develop here,” Notre Dame head coach Jeff Jackson said of Bavaro. “I think he’s been committed to that. He’s grown.”

Big life changes often come with difficulties, but Bavaro says that the Notre Dame program made him feel at home right away. Soon after joining Notre Dame, he knew playing for the Irish was special.

“It was hard at the beginning, just because [it’s a] new place, new facility, you’re kinda in awe, honestly, because we have it so good here — we have probably the best, one of the best, facilities in the country, one of the best fan atmospheres in the country,” Bavaro said. “Obviously, the first few games, I’m kind of starstruck, looking around, not really believing this is happening … I don’t take it for granted.”

With six goals and 12 assists for 18 points this year, Bavaro has contributed on both sides of the puck. In the eyes of his head coach, the defenseman is a growing player with pro-hockey upside.

“At his size and his skating ability, he could be an elite level defender, let alone contribute offensively,” Jackson said. “It’s not like he’s a pure offensive defenseman, so for him and his career I think it’s going to be critical that he really develops that part of his game without the puck.”

Bavaro and his teammates now turn their attention to this weekend’s playoff series against Michigan State, which begins Friday. Fresh on the Irish minds is a recent series in East Lansing, during which the Spartans swept Notre Dame.

“[We’re] feeling pretty good going into Michigan State, where we feel we didn’t play our best there a few weeks ago,” Bavaro said. “That could’ve been our season, honestly, if we didn’t turn it around, so we feel like we owe these guys, and we’re excited to have them back at Compton.”

A new season begins for Bavaro and the Irish against the Spartans this weekend. The puck drops on game one Friday night at 7 p.m. Saturday’s game two will begin at 4:30 p.m. If necessary, the best-of-three series rubber game will be played at 6 p.m. Sunday.