Not with a bang but a whimper.
That was how Notre Dame’s four-year tenure in Hockey East ended: a 5-1 loss to UMass-Lowell in which the Irish had their last chance to win league hardware, but it certainly wasn’t their best chance.
Other than the flukiest of goals to take a 1-0 lead – one which might have had Notre Dame fans thinking a wee St. Patrick’s Day leprechaun might be helping their cause – the Irish played the lesser role in a men versus boys contest.
“This is familiar territory,” Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson said after the loss. “UMass-Lowell is a great team and they certainly have our number. They have ever since we started playing them three or four years ago. Same thing tonight.”
The fluke goal, Notre Dame’s only tally of the night, came when Dennis Gilbert fired a clearing pass from the defensive zone, it deflected oddly at the red line off Jack Jenkins, and eluded goaltender Tyler Wall.
The only explanation seemed to be a leprechaun.
But if so, the little fella abandoned the Irish for the rest of the contest. Lowell answered the goal within 25 seconds, and it took the lead two minutes later. The Irish finished the period with only three shots, the second lowest total ever in a Hockey East semifinal, and not one of them was of a quality variety.
It didn’t get much better, as the River Hawks expanded the lead to 4-1 in the second period, and applied a fifth and final nail in the coffin early in the third. Arguably, the contest was nowhere near as close as the 5-1 final score.
When Notre Dame joined Hockey East, it was coming off a CCHA championship. That league was disbanding, and the Irish went out that time with a bang.
In Hockey East, however, they’ve finished the regular season tied for seventh, fifth, third, and fourth. That last result will go down as the school’s best chance to earn Hockey East hardware. A win over Boston University in the final game of the regular season would have given the Irish the regular season title as a parting exclamation point. Instead, they lost and finished fourth, one point out of the three-way tie for first.
In the league tournament, the Irish only got to the Garden in their first year, 2014, and this year, both times falling in the semifinals.
No championship games. No Hockey East hardware.
“The teams that were the top teams in the CCHA have all struggled since the CCHA disbanded,” Jackson said. “It’s like not really being at home. It’s happened to all of us.
“We’ve been fairly successful in Hockey East, but not to the point where we’ve won championships. We’ve been close, a little bit at times, but it’s a great conference. The depth of the conference is extremely good.
“It’s a different environment. As much as we’ve been proud to be a member of Hockey East, we’ve never felt that we quite belonged here. It’s certainly not by anyone’s actions; you just don’t feel that you’re where you belong.”
That certainly isn’t the case for UMass-Lowell, which by virtue of the win will now be playing in its fifth straight Hockey East championship game.
“The guys like playing here (in the Garden),” UML coach Norm Bazin said. “It’s an exciting time of year to be playing hockey. It shows a stability and a consistency in the program and a culture of accountability.
“The guys were itching to come back. This year was probably the most brutal regular season. It was very difficult to get here. So we’re thrilled to be here, but we’ve been on both sides of this.”
The River Hawks won the title in 2013 and 2014, but had to settle for runner-up status the past two seasons.
“We’d like to be on the side of 2013 and 2014,” Bazin said.