April 5, 2017 PRINT Bookmark and Share

How Notre Dame Got Its Groove Back

One Shift In The Regional Turned Around The Season

by Mike McMahon/Staff Writer (@MikeMcMahonCHN)

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CHICAGO — Following a 5-1 loss to Lowell in the Hockey East semifinals, Notre Dame head coach Jeff Jackson was concerned. For the first time in eight weeks, something was off about his team.

To that point, the TD Garden in Boston was the biggest stage the Irish had played on all season. It was just the second time in their brief four-year stint in Hockey East that the team would be at the Garden, on the final weekend, playing for a league championship.

Those hopes were dashed, and in an alarming way.

Jackson was concerned about his team's confidence. The Irish had been blinded by the bright lights, and the River Hawks pounced.

The very next week, against Minnesota in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, the Irish were behind again, 2-0, in the second period.

"Lowell took it to us pretty good in Boston Garden," Jackson said on Wednesday, as his team prepared to face Denver in the Frozen Four on Thursday. "It wasn't the same team. The first time I've really gotten on them in a negative way was that Sunday morning of the selection show because it's the first time I really addressed them after the game we played at Boston Garden."

Jackson saw a team that was blinded by the big moment. He was upset because he knew this group was better than that. Seasons are made up of moments, and even a minor blip can derail an otherwise solid body of work.

Jackson knew this team was too good for that. They were too good, too focused, to have their season end like that, with back-to-back losses.

"I was upset with them because they were all mesmerized by the moment," Jackson said. "We also played a very good team (Lowell). But the thing is, it wasn't the same team I'd been seeing for eight weeks. So after that game, my biggest concern was if that loss knocked all our confidence out of us?"

For the first 30 minutes against the Gophers, it at least looked like it had. The Gophers controlled the early portion of the first-round game before the Irish had one big shift from one of its grinding lines. It wasn't Anders Bjork, Dylan Malmquist or Andrew Oglevie who turned around the game, and ultimately Notre Dame's season, but rather it was Joe Wegwerth and Bo Brauer, who between them have 16 points this season.

"We've been caught up in the moment sometimes," said junior forward Jake Evans. "Starting out in the second period (against Minnesota), I think we had one big shift by some of our bigger guys — Bo Brauer and Joe Wegwerth — and they started setting the tone.

"That one shift by Joe and Bo mainly, having an offensive grind-time shift, that really helped us out. We started getting our legs back in. We got back to our game, and that was probably the biggest shift of our year so far."

After that, the Irish had their legs again. They were playing with speed and were attacking the puck. A few minutes later they tied the score and then won the game with a goal in the third period.

One day later, the Irish exorcized the demon against Lowell, beating the River Hawks in the regional final, in overtime.

Everything had turned around, and most of it could be traced back to that one shift from Wegwerth and Brauer. They turned the momentum, churning the puck down low and physically dominating Minnesota. Even just for those 30 seconds, it was enough to show the rest of the group what was possible.

"We were on our heels the first period against Minnesota," Jackson said. "We had a great shift before Cal made that head man pass up to Oglevie for the goal. Then that changed everything. All of a sudden, boom, we're all right.

"I don't think we went into a panic mode, even though we're not playing great. The coaches, when we're not playing well, I'm not going to harp on them in a negative way. I'm going to build them up."

The television timeouts were crucial. Jackson took every opportunity to build up his players, often asking associate coach Andy Slaggert to give him a theme for each media timeout.

"I was trying to work on their confidence," Jackson said. "I asked Andy to pick one thing for me before every TV timeout, about one or two guys that were doing things, and even asking them, what are you seeing out there? What are you feeling out there? We were trying to engage them."

After that, the Irish got back to the team Jackson said he saw over the last eight weeks of the regular season.

Now, here they are two wins away from a national championship.

"They responded after that (first) goal, and all of a sudden, we started to see the team that I had been seeing for the last eight weeks."

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