A Cinderella run to the 2017 Frozen Four struck midnight, literally, for Notre Dame on Thursday night at Chicago’s United Center.
Shortly before midnight Eastern Standard Time — after a 9:57 p.m. face-off — the No. 4 seed Fighting Irish had fallen behind No. 1 Denver 5-0 after the first two periods en route to a 6-1 defeat. It was the worst of the year for the Irish, who finished with a record of 23-12-5.
On Saturday night, Denver (32-7-4) will play for the national title against Minnesota-Duluth, a 2-1 victor over Harvard in the earlier game.
The Pioneers asserted their dominance in the first period, forcing goalie Cal Petersen to make a save off a hard shot in the opening five seconds and then continued to pepper him with onslaughts while controlling the action through the first 20 minutes.
Denver outshot Notre Dame 13-3 in the first period — 42-17 in the game — and scored the first goal at the 8:18 mark on an Emil Romig tally, and followed with another goal at 14:50 when Henrik Borgstrom tapped in a wraparound attempt.
Although it was only 2-0 at the end of the first period, it already felt like 5-0 — which it would be after the second 20 minutes.
The Irish came out with much more physicality and aggression to start the second period, out-skated Denver the first 14 minutes and missed on several quality looks at the Pioneer net — before the floodgates opened with three goals by Denver in the final 5:53 of the period to up the lead to 5-0.
A turning point occurred when the Irish put on a siege at the Denver goal and a Joe Wegwerth shot resulted in the referee losing sight of the puck and blowing the whistle to halt play. Shortly thereafter, a slip by the Irish defense resulted in a two-on-one Denver breakaway with a pass from Evan Janssen to Tariq Hammond for a back-breaking 3-0 lead.
Two more goals followed at 16:27 (Dylan Gambrell) and 18:18 (Evan Ritt), giving the Pioneers three goals in a span of 4:09 to salt away the game.
Notre Dame finally scored on a power-play opportunity at the 11:24 mark when a slap shot by junior Jordan Gross deflected off freshman Cam Morrison’s stick and found its way into the back of the net.
The scoring was closed out by Denver’s Gambrell at 16:42 of the third period.
Notre Dame head coach Jeff Jackson, who led the Irish to their third Frozen in the past 10 years (third most in the country), told Notre Dame associate athletics director John Heisler his team achieved much this year despite having only two seniors on the 26-man roster.
“They’re the No. 1 ranked team in the country for a reason,” Jackson said of Denver. “You give them their due. They're a great team. I’m not going to be pleased until we win one of these things. Getting here is great. I give these kids a lot of credit because I don’t think anybody expected them to be here.
“But, hey, they got within a point of first place in Hockey East. They got within a game of the championship in Boston Garden. They got within a game of playing in the national championship game. So something has to be said for that.”
Irish hockey moves to the Big Ten next season.
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