BRIDGEPORT, Conn. – Michigan Tech's Cinderella run through the playoffs finally came to an end Friday (March 23) in the NCAA East Region Semifinal. The No. 18-ranked Huskies fell 4-3 in overtime to No. 2 Notre Dame at Webster Bank Arena.
"I thought it was a fun hockey game to be a part of," Tech coach Joe Shawhan said. "I thought our guys showed up and played very well against a great team. Our guys played their hearts out. They played better as the season went on, and tonight, as the game went on."
Down 3-2 late in regulation, Shawhan pulled goaltender Patrick Munson to add the extra attacker. Jake Jackson carried the puck into the zone and used his speed to beat his defender on the outside before firing a shot past goaltender Cale Morris to tie it up with 66 seconds left. Dylan Steman and Brent Baltus assisted on Jackson's 13th goal of the season.
In the overtime, the Huskies had plenty of scoring chances that Morris steered away. Joel L'Esperance had a shot at the doorstep 5:00 in, Gavin Gould found some space in front of the net a few minutes later, and Cooper Watson blasted a one-timer with 4:45 left.
The best chance came from Alex Smith. He carried the puck across the high slot and patiently waited for his chance. A shot from the side of the net squeezed under Morris and sat partially on the goal line before a defenseman cleared it out. The puck eventually came out to the blue line and Mark Auk's stick broke when he tried to hold it in.
Jordan Gross picked up the loose puck and went in on a breakaway. Munson was there for the initial save and sweep to the corner. The Fighting Irish worked the puck back out to Gross just inside the blue line, and he wristed in the game-winner through traffic with 3:36 left to send the East's top seed to the regional championship.
"I love our team," added Shawhan. "I'm going to miss our seniors desperately. They've helped through my transition to head coach and have been part of a lot of wins here at Michigan Tech."
After a scoreless first period, the Huskies took the first lead 1:13 into the second when Joel L'Esperance scored his 12th of the season. He caught a stretch pass from Seamus Donohue and powered through some hooking and holding, kicking the puck up to his stick for a quick snapshot. Jake Lucchini also assisted on the play.
Notre Dame (26-9-2) tied it up 2:27 later when Dylan Malmquist finished off a nifty pass by Andrew Oglevie after a turnover behind the net.
The Fighting Irish then took the lead just over 3:00 later as Joe Wegwerth finished off a backdoor feed from Colin Theisen.
Tech scored 56 seconds into the third to tie the game. Jake Lucchini drove to the net and protected the puck between his legs before taking a shot. Morris was there for the initial save but it bounced to Gavin Gould sitting at the doorstep for his 14th of the season. Donohue also assisted for his second helper of the night.
The Huskies were whistled for back-to-back penalties early in the third and Gross capitalized for his first of two in the game, scoring a goal similar to the game-winner at the 6:19 mark.
Tech held a 39-32 lead in shots on goal, including a 17-6 advantage in the second and 14-10 lead in the third.
Mike Richter finalist Cale Morris stood tall for the Fighting Irish all night, finishing with 36 saves. In the first, he stopped Steman on a short breakaway and Thomas Beretta after a misplayed puck left an open net. Morris had a number of saves on rebounds in the final two periods as Raymond Brice, Brent Baltus, and Jackson were all denied.
On the other side, Munson finished with 28 saves for the Black and Gold. He stopped five early shots when the Fighting Irish opened the game with a ton of offensive pressure. In OT, he denied Andrew Oglevie just over 2:00 in for a monster save.
The two teams combined for only three minor penalties despite a very physically played game.
Tech was playing its 25th all-time NCAA Tournament game in its 13th overall appearance. The Huskies finished the season with a 22-17-5 overall record, winning 20 games for the fourth straight season to accomplish the feat for the first time since 1972-76.
It was the final game for Michigan Tech's nine seniors who won 97 games—the most since the 1984 class. This year's seniors were Evan Anderson, Mark Auk, Brent Baltus, Dane Birks, Mason Blacklock, Alex Gillies, Devin Kero, Joel L'Esperance, and Dylan Steman.
The class took the Huskies to three NCAA Tournaments, won a pair of WCHA Tournament Titles, won the MacNaughton Cup as WCHA regular season champs as sophomores, and were ranked the No. 1 team in the nation in 2014-15 after a program-best 10-0 start. They also won the Desert Hockey Classic in 2015-16 and the Ice Breaker Championship earlier this season.