Before the sellout crowd at Arlotta Stadium charged the field after Notre Dame’s 15-14 comeback to beat North Carolina for the ACC regular season title, head coach Kevin Corrigan wanted to talk about Arnold Palmer.
Notre Dame’s head coach had read a story last week about Palmer’s win at the 1960 U.S. Open and the affliction of satisfaction that followed. The seven-time major champion said the sensation cost him another few majors by dulling his desire to prepare. Corrigan wanted to vaccinate his top-ranked squad against that with the ACC tournament next weekend and the NCAA tournament to follow.
“We’ve had a wonderful season to date, but we can’t stop preparing,” Corrigan said. “We can’t stop doing the work to be able to be at our best next week, which is hopefully better than last week.”
And yes, Corrigan had to educate his roster on who Arnold Palmer actually is.
“I told them he’s the guy who invented the drink,” he laughed.
Preparation paid big for Notre Dame (9-1, 4-0) against No. 2 North Carolina (12-2, 3-1). Corrigan spent Wednesday’s practice on end-game situations, with the Irish up and down. So there was a plan. And there was Matt Kavanagh too.
The Irish rallied from a two-goal deficit in the final 1:15 with three man-up goals, including the game-winner from Kavanagh with just seven seconds remaining.
The attackman drew a two-minute non-releasable penalty – the equivalent of a major in hockey – against the Tar Heels’ Evan Connell, who launched Kavanagh into the cage with a blindside hit to the head. The blow popped the junior’s helmet off, with the 5-foot-8, 179-pound athlete ready to go at Connell and North Carolina’s 14-12 lead.
He scored his 20th of the season 11 seconds later to cut the deficit in half.
“Sucks for that kid to be sitting in the box when we were scoring three man-up goals, but I couldn’t be happier,” said Kavanagh, who sidestepped any question about feeling woozy after taking that shot. “Yeah. I don’t know. I don’t really want to say anything about that. I’m feeling all right right now.”
P.J. Finley won the ensuing faceoff and after an Irish timeout Sergio Perkovic whistled a shot home with 33 seconds remaining to tie the score at 14-14. Finley then won another faceoff, which ultimately turned into the Kavanagh winner off a feed from midfield captain Jim Marlatt.
“Matt sets the best example in terms of going out there and doing what you have to do to win,” Finley said. “We love him obviously, especially in these situations. He brings it every day. We love to see that.”
Kavanagh and Mikey Wynne paced Notre Dame with four goals each. Perkovic and Conor Doyle both scored three times with sophomore Pat Healy scoring once on the first shot of his career.
The Irish out-shot the Tar Heels 48-46 while losing in face offs 18-15 in a game with six lead changes. All but 3:33 of the game was played either tied or with one team up by one goal.
Irish goaltender Shane Doss finished with nine saves.
Notre Dame will face Duke in the ACC tournament semifinals on April 24 at PPL Park in Chester, Pa. Notre Dame won 15-10 at Duke on April 4.
North Carolina will face Syracuse in the other semifinal.
Finishing as ACC regular season champions with a No. 1 ranking offered at least some satisfaction as Notre Dame was mobbed by some of the 4,522 at Arlotta on Saturday. It also didn’t mean everything, not after three Final Fours in the past five years without a title.
A championship on Memorial Day next month at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia would be the program’s first.
“Certainly feels good, but I think we all know this really isn’t the end goal,” Finley said. “It’s great to get this, but I think we all know what we’re headed for at the end of the year.”