BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — It started with a broken stick and ended with the puck in the back of Michigan Tech’s net.
Notre Dame defenseman Jordan Gross scored his second goal of the game 16:24 into overtime to give the top-seeded Fighting Irish a 4-3 win over the No. 4 Huskies in the opening game of the NCAA East Regional at the Webster Bank Arena.
The goal came after Michigan Tech controlled play for a lengthy stretch in the final minutes of overtime. But a Huskies player snapped his stick on a shot attempt just inside the Notre Dame blue line, sending the puck to Notre Dame’s Cam Morrison, who was denied on a breakaway by Michigan Tech’s Patrick Munson (28 saves).
“We had a good group of guys on the ice and [Michigan Tech] packed it in,” Gross said. “We were fortunate to get the breakaway and Cam had a good hustle to get the puck in the zone. Their players also may have been tired from such a long [offensive-]zone shift but we took advantage.”
Notre Dame goalie Cale Morris finished with 36 saves, while Andrew Oglevie had two assists. The Fighting Irish (26-9-2) will face either Clarkson or Providence in the regional final at 6 p.m. Eastern on Saturday.
“We did a lot of good things but just couldn’t capitalize on our chances,” Huskies forward Jake Jackson said. “It’s a tough way for the game to finish.”
Michigan Tech’s final possession mirrored much of the game, and Notre Dame’s season. The Huskies controlled the puck and outchanced the Fighting Irish throughout the game, but Morris, who leads the country in saves and is a Hobey Baker Award finalist, held strong.
That resiliency has been a hallmark of the Fighting Irish all season, but it might be taking a toll on their coach.
“I tell them after games they have to quit doing this because I’m 62 and I don’t know how much my heart can handle this, but they find a way to score that timely goal,” Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson said. “They’re the cardiac kids. That’s the way we’ve done it all season long.”
The game-winning goal came despite some of the Fighting Irish players dealing with fatigue after not getting a complete line change.
“Anytime you have that kind of shift, guys are exhausted and we were concerned about that, no question,” Jackson said. “We handled it and survived and that’s the only thing that matters to me.”
Notre Dame and Jackson were a familiar matchup for first-year Huskies coach Joe Shawhan, who led Michigan Tech to its third straight NCAA appearance this season.
Shawhan was a senior at Lake Superior State during Jackson’s first year as an assistant coach with the Lakers, and he would come to him for advice when Jackson took over as head coach of the Lakers in 1990.
“I know Notre Dame, and I don’t mean this in a derogatory way at all, but it was a good team for us to play against because I am so familiar with Jeff Jackson,” Shawhan said. “Working with him, I had a chance to study him in a non-threatening way. A lot of what we do is taken from him, so there were no surprises today.”
The Huskies trailed 2-1 entering the third, but tied the game on Gavin Gould’s goal 56 seconds into the period. Jake Lucchini drove up the right wing, deked a Notre Dame defenseman and threw the puck on net before Gould cleaned up the rebound.
Gross’ power-play bomb from the point gave the Fighting Irish a 3-2 lead at 6:19 in the third, but Jackson tied it for Michigan Tech (22-17-5) at 18:54. The Huskies junior cruised up the left wing before beating Morris from close in.
Joel L’Esperance put the Huskies up 1-0 1:13 into the second period, but Notre Dame scored twice in just over three minutes to take the lead.
Dylan Malmquist tied it at 3:40, while Joe Wegwerth gave the Fighting Irish a 2-1 lead at 7:04, setting up a hectic third period and overtime.
“This game is how we played all year,” Shawhan said. “We had to work really hard. We didn’t not win due to a lack of effort. Things didn’t come easy for us this year … [but] I couldn’t be prouder of our team.”