MANCHESTER – The NCAA tournament began with four Hockey East teams on the bracket, but only one will go to Chicago to compete for a national championship.
Notre Dame, in its final season with the conference before joining the Big Ten, was the last Hockey East program standing Sunday night as the regional portion of the tournament concluded.
The fourth-seeded Irish (23-11-5) flipped the bracket in the northeast this weekend, closing the regional tournament with a 3-2 overtime win against Hockey East champion UMass-Lowell (27-11-3). Notre Dame dropped top-seed Minnesota – the tournament’s fourth seed overall – on Saturday.
Sophomore forward Andrew Oglevie netted the game-winner 2:44 into overtime off a pass from Anders Bjork, his third assist of the game.
“Anders had the puck on his stick, and I was just standing in the slot and I hoped he’d pass it,” Oglevie said. “He did and I just hit it as hard as I could, and luckily for us it went in.”
As the lamp lit up, Oglevie cut a turn toward the other end of the rink at SNHU Arena and met all-tournament goaltender Cal Petersen (27 saves) in an embrace near the blue line as the rest of the team piled on.
Sunday’s game was the perfect setting for an underdog’s upset. Notre Dame overcame a 2-0 deficit against Minnesota, 3-2, on Saturday to the set the table for a matchup with Lowell in the regional final. The River Hawks knocked Notre Dame out of the conference tournament in the semifinals earlier this month, bringing their series record with the Irish to 11-2 in their previous 13 meetings.
Notre Dame beat those odds in dramatic fashion Sunday.
“UMass-Lowell’s a really good team and we’ve struggled with them in the past,” Oglevie said. “I think that it just gave us more motivation tonight to just come in and give it all we had. It’s a trip to the Frozen Four, so you get up for it. I guess you could say it was sweet that we got another chance at them, but I would have played anyone to get here.”
The conference tournament loss to Lowell gave the Irish an indication of the competition they would face in the NCAA tournament, Bjork said.
“I think it was a bit of a wake-up call for us,” Bjork said. “They’re a good team, we know that, and we kind of were on a roll before then and they took it to us there. It let us regroup and we realized how hard we have to come out each game and how hard everyone needs to compete. Every guy on our team did that and realized that – we played with confidence, we played with poise.”
Bjork, the Boston Bruins’ fifth-round pick in 2014, was named the regional’s most outstanding player. The Hobey Baker finalist had his fingerprints on each Irish goal Sunday after scoring the tying goal and game-winner against Minnesota on Saturday.
Bjork intercepted a blue-line pass and sent the puck to Cam Morrison (two goals) for a breakaway goal to give the Irish a 1-0 lead in the first period. After Lowell took a 2-1 lead in the third, Bjork made a smart backhand pass to Morrison in front of the crease and Morrison fired it by Lowell netminder Tyler Wall (25 saves) to force overtime.
“I think everyone in the locker room knows that Anders is probably one of the most special players in college hockey,” Oglevie said. “Playing with him, fun things happen offensively. ... He’s got great vision and he’s always in attack mode. So it’s really fun to play with Anders.”
The Irish head to Chicago for their third Frozen Four appearance and will chase their first national championship. They’ll face overall top seed Denver in the semifinals on April 6. Second-seeded Minnesota-Duluth will play third-seeded Harvard in the other game. The championship game will be played April 8.
Lowell saw its national title ambitions dashed by the Irish, who killed three consecutive penalties in the second period. The River Hawks entered Sunday ranked third nationally in power play efficiency but couldn’t solve Notre Dame’s 12th-ranked penalty kill.
“There’s no question that when you score on your special teams it’s very good,” Lowell Coach Norm Bazin said. “It is the difference maker. ... I thought they let the kids play today. They put the whistles away and you’re definitely plugging away for a few calls here and there, but overall you get three power plays, you have to try to convert on one and we didn’t convert.”
Ryan Collins scored his first goal of the season to bring Lowell even with Notre Dame in the first period. Ryan Lohin assisted on the goal for his third point of the weekend. Lohin, another all-tournament selection, scored twice against Cornell on Saturday.
After a scoreless second period, John Edwardh tipped Tommy Panico’s blast from the point past Petersen to give the River Hawks a 2-1 lead with 11:38 left in regulation. Morrison scored the tying goal for Notre Dame three minutes later.
“It’s a fine line between winning and losing, especially playing these great teams at the end of the year and we realize that,” said Bazin, in his fifth NCAA tournament appearance through six years behind the Lowell bench. “We just didn’t get the types of looks that we needed in the overtime to cash in.”Leaving on good terms
Notre Dame Coach Jeff Jackson was asked if he could sense the irony lurking behind this win as the Irish exit Hockey East. He offered a diplomatic answer.
“I said it at the banquet many times (that) until the final minute of the final game we play, we are proud members of Hockey East, so we’ll be happy to represent them at the Frozen Four,” he said.Double-shifting Bjork?
It didn’t seem like Notre Dame’s No. 10 was ever going to leave the ice when he stepped on for a shift. A reporter asked Jackson if he was double-shifting Bjork, but the coach said he was not.
With two second-line skaters missing from the lineup, Bjork’s ability to endure extra ice time and produce on offense was welcome.
“Anders has a tendency to stay on the ice a little longer,” Jackson said. “I’ve said this about Cal Peterson, too: If you’ve got horses, you play them.”
(Nick Stoico can be reached at 369-3339, email@example.com or on Twitter @NickStoico.)