Evans turns into playmaker at center

Jake Evans is making plays and winning draws for the Notre Dame hockey team in his full-time move to center. He’s tied for the team lead in assists with Northeastern coming to town for a Hockey East series.

Who: Notre Dame (4-2-2) vs. Northeastern (1-7-1)
When: 7:35 p.m. ET tonight; 7:35 p.m. ET Friday
Where: Compton Family Ice Arena; South Bend, Ind. (5,022)
Radio: 99.9 FM (WHFB)
TV: American Sports Network (Friday)
Twitter: @ND_hockey

Jake Evans is starting to become a player upon which the Notre Dame hockey team can rely.

Evans spent most of last season, his first in the program, toiling at right wing. He scored seven goals and added 10 assists in 41 games played. Solid work for a freshman, but head coach Jeff Jackson had something bigger planned for the Toronto product.

Jackson moved Evans to center, likely for good. Evans played down the middle at the junior level before coming to Notre Dame and some as a freshman, so it wasn’t a huge adjustment.

“I think it’s been going pretty well,” Evans said. “I played center in juniors, so it wasn’t that big of a transition for me. You’re playing with a lot of older guys in this league but I’ve got two speedy wingers. It’s nice playing with them. I feel like I have more options there. I feel like it’s going pretty well so far.”

Freshmen Dylan Malmquist and Andrew Oglevie have served as wingers for Evans so far this season.

Malmquist leads the Irish with five goals heading into this weekend’s Hockey East series against Northeastern. Oglevie has two assists and a plus-5 rating. Evans is tied for second on the team with eight points in eight games with one goal and seven assist.

Evans recorded a three assist game last weekend in a 4-3 win over Minnesota, which included setting up Jordan Gross for the game-winning goal on a backdoor play.

“We recruited him because of that ability,” Jackson said. “When he was at St. Mike’s you could certainly see the instincts for the game. The biggest thing for him is just learning how to do it, use it, consistently in his games because he was a different player from Friday to Saturday. I thought he was our best player on Friday night.

“He could probably compete with another sophomore, Jordan Gross, who wasn’t bad Friday night too. But he needs to learn how to be able to bring it every night.”

One area in which Evans continues to bring consistency for the most part is in face offs.

No Irish player with more than five draws taken is winning them at a higher clip than Evans. He’s 81-55 in the circle this season, good for a 59.6 percent win rate. Jackson has used Evans on draws in the defensive zone and other crucial situations.

“It’s definitely a boost in confidence for me,” Evans said. “He wants a guy that’s not gonna lose a draw and tie up at least or hopefully win it. With him putting me out there, it helps my confidence. I think whatever I can do to help the team is good.”

Irish prepare on short week

Notre Dame (4-2-2) welcomes a struggling Northeastern (1-7-1) squad to the Compton Family Ice Arena for a two-game Hockey East series on a rare short week.

They’ll play at 7:35 p.m. tonight and at the same time Friday then make way for the final home football game of the season Saturday afternoon. Most college series held on weekends go Friday-Saturday.

“It’s tough when you have short work weeks,” Jackson said. “Obviously, you’ve got to consider the demands of school. I worry not so much about the physical fatigue because these guys are young and athletes. It’s not so much about the physical as it is mental. In some ways, even like last weekend or this weekend, you worry about not being all engaged because they’re a little spent when they come to the rink.”

Katunar continues to wait

Jackson has yet to find a spot for backup goaltender Chad Katunar to play.

Starter Cal Petersen has started all eight games this season with a .909 goals-against average while allowing 2.38 goals per game. Right now the focus is getting Petersen a tad sharper before finding a game during which to play Katunar.

“Cal hasn’t gotten into his groove in my opinion yet,” Jackson said. “I think he’s played well but I don’t think he’s played great. I need to get him into his groove then I feel comfortable putting Chad in there. We have to pick the spot we feel Chad can have success too. Whether it’s home or on the road, it’s not so much about an opponent. The other thing is too, I wouldn’t mind getting him in a game that Cal starts. I think back to the game at UConn, I probably should’ve thrown Chad in there are some point to get some playing time before I throw him in for a start.

Notre Dame beat Connecticut 8-2 a couple weeks ago.

Katunar, a junior, played in 15 games last season while making 11 starts. He went 5-3-2 while allowing 3.01 goals per game with a .899 save percentage.

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