Matt Cashore / IrishIllustrated.com

Hockey East semifinal test awaits

Notre Dame gets one more shot at a Hockey East banner. UMass-Lowell awaits in tonight’s league tournament semifinals, a place the Irish haven’t been in three years. Lowell stood in their way during that run too.

Who: No. 9 Notre Dame (21-10-5) vs. No. 5 UMass-Lowell (24-10-3)
When: 5 p.m. tonight
Where: TD Garden; Boston, Mass.
Radio: 94.3 FM (WZOC)
TV: NESN
Twitter: @ND_hockey

Notre Dame gets one last shot at Hockey East glory.

After four years in the league, the Big Ten awaits next season. Never have the Irish captured a Hockey East regular season or tournament title. What they do have is a history of closing out conference affiliations in style. Notre Dame won the 2013 CCHA tourney title, the league’s final postseason event.

Could that toppling of Michigan at Joe Louis Arena be an omen? Probably not. Head coach Jeff Jackson isn’t ready to consider the possibility of history repeating itself.

“All we can worry about is the next game,” Jackson said. “We’re going to end up playing the highest seed. It’s not going to be easy, that’s for sure.”

Jackson foresaw the difficult path ahead.

All four top seeds advanced out of the Hockey East quarterfinals, meaning No. 9 Notre Dame (21-10-5) gets No. 5 UMass-Lowell tonight in the semifinals. No. 7 Boston University and No. 15 Boston College play afterward in the other semifinal.

Lowell (24-10-3) has dominated Notre Dame in Hockey East play. The Irish are 2-8-2 against the River Hawks all time, including a series split earlier this season. Lowell eliminated Notre Dame during its last run to the Hockey East semifinals in 2014.

“There’s not a lot of teams that have had much success against Lowell,” Jackson said “They’re a very well-coached team. (Head coach) Norm (Bazin) does a great job recruiting to their system and their strengths. They’re a heavy team. They play a heavy game. They’re generally big and physical and older, so they lean on you.

“That probably doesn’t play well for teams like ours and some of the other teams that are at Boston Garden as far as being young and probably play to a more up style run-and-gun game. They’re a fast team but they play fast defensively as well as offensively. They’ve given us problems because they lean on us.”

On the flip side, Jackson believes Notre Dame is playing some of its best hockey.

Notre Dame is 7-1-2 during its last 10 games while relying on one of the hottest goaltenders in college hockey. Cal Petersen has a .930 save percentage and a 2.05 goals-against average after allowing just two goals on 73 shots in two games against Providence last weekend in the quarterfinals.

Both of those statistical marks are tops in Hockey East and top 10 in the nation.

And that’s just the beginning.

Winger Anders Bjork is a Hobey Baker finalist with 19 goals and 47 points total.

“They’ve a very talented club,” Bazin said. “They seem to be effective in several areas that they’re traditionally good in. Bjork has had a heck of a season. (Jake) Evans is clicking pretty well. Their goaltender is their captain, so enough said. He provides a lot of leadership for them in many different ways. As I said earlier, unless we bring our ‘A’ game, I don’t think a team will move forward without bringing their best game in the tournament.”

Bjork a Hobey Baker finalist

Earlier this week Bjork was named one of 10 finalists for the Hobey Baker Award, college hockey’s version of the Heisman Trophy.

He’s the third player in program history — forward Dave Poulin (1982) and goalie David Brown (2007) being the others — to be named a finalist. Brown finished runner up. Bjork is also one of five finalists for the community service-based Hockey Humanitarian Award. He’s one of just three players ever to be up for both at this stage.

Bjork leads Notre Dame in goals (19) and assists (28). He also has the most game-winning goals with five.

Gilbert, Peeke earn league honors

Hockey East announced some initial season awards, as voted on by the league’s coaches. Notre Dame’s Dennis Gilbert won top defensive defenseman while defenseman Andrew Peeke landed on the all-rookie team.

Gilbert, a third round pick of the Chicago Blackhawks in 2015, has played in all 36 games this season with a career-high 21 points. He has 10 assists in the last 10 games.

Peeke, the only defenseman on the all-rookie team, has also played in all 36 games this season. He has four goals and nine assists. Columbus drafted Peeke in the second round of the 2016 NHL Draft.


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