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Catching The Torch: Jake Evans leads Notre Dame to Big Ten championship

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Stats, highlights, and updates on the Montreal Canadiens prospects from the past week.

2017 NCAA Division I Men's Hockey Championships - Semifinals

Each week we take an in-depth look at young members of the organization while providing an overview of Habs prospects playing at the junior (OHL, WHL) and collegiate level(USHL, NCAA).

Jake Evans didn't make the shortlist for the Hobey Baker Award, but his importance to Notre Dame can't be overstated. On and off the ice, Evans is a pillar of the Fighting Irish — their leader, and a big reason why the team was able to get through Ohio State and capture the Big Ten title.

Notre Dame played with a shorter bench for most of the game on Saturday. It wasn't rare to see Evans on the ice for long minutes, playing with different teammates, and double-shifting when possible. The Irish relied on their core to carry them to victory, and the strategy worked.

Evans took a ridiculous 29 faceoffs; the next closest on the team, Mike O'Leary, took only 11. Winning 16 of his matchups at the dot, for a 55,2 % efficientcy, he was the only centre on the Irish to finish with a positive differential. This discrepancy speaks volumes about what the captain does for the team, and illustrates perfectly what is almost an over-reliance on him. If there was a defensive start, nine times out of 10 Evans was the one lining up.

Saturday's contest turned into a shutdown game pretty quickly for Notre Dame as they took a 2-0 lead in the first period. Having won several close contests this year, the team decided to bet on a defensive style and their league-leading goaltender, Cale Morris, to carry them to victory.

Unfortunately for them, Ohio State managed to pierce their defence to tie the game.

Then came overtime, and, after half a period of play, yet another defensive faceoff.

Who was sent out to take it? You guessed it: Jake Evans.

He won the draw, but the puck was lost a few seconds later. It resulted in a shot that Cale Morris immediately caught, forcing Evans to go back to the dot.

He won again, but this time the breakout was successfully initiated. The puck was sent behind the net and was then given to Tanner Laczynski on the far boards.

Like the disciplined centre that he is, Evans waited for his linemate to be in a position to pass before accelerating into open ice. He received the puck, exited the zone, attracted Ohio state's low forechecking forward, and passed back to his winger. Laczynski skated in, put all his weight into a shot and cleanly beat the opposing goalie, instantly causing a swarm of Irish players to leave the bench to celebrate.

It was the second primary assist for Evans in the game, and while it was his most important, it didn’t rank as his best play of the night. He also contributed to the first goal his team scored, getting them on the board early in the first period.

As he showed repeatedly this season, Evans can execute some great passes even when he doesn't have time to look at the play. But when he does, he displays a real ability to thread the needle, getting the puck to his covered teammates in front of the net.

Evans' pass went through a few skates and an opposing stick on that goal, but still made perfect contact with the blade of Brauer, who only had to put his stick down to deflect the feed to the open side of the goal.

The points were the 39th and 40th of the season for the Habs’ 2014 seventh-rounder.

Notre Dame will now begin their journey to the Frozen Four, starting next weekend against Michigan Tech.

Prospect Spotlights

Cayden Primeau vs. Hayden Hawkey

It was the third time this season that Northeastern and Providence faced each other in a battle of Habs goalies, with each of the previous two games requiring overtime. Providence won one game and tied the other. It was time for Northeastern to show that they were the superior team, proving that their spot in the rankings ahead of their division rival was deserved.

There was a collection of great saves at both ends of the ice on Friday, getting the game to overtime for the third consecutive time, but ultimately Providence triumphed. A loose puck in front of the net killed the chances of Northeastern to win the Hockey East title.

Primeau was visibly disappointed after letting the goal in. He stood tall against division teams all season, accumulating a .937 save percentage and a 1.79 goal-against average, and probably deserved a better faith.

He once again displayed his great puck-tracking ability against Providence, both on tipped shots from the blue line when he barely had half a second to adjust, and when finding the puck in repeated scrums in front of the blue paint.

Managing a total of 31 saves, he finished the night with a .912 ratio. With this performance, his numbers are still north of the .930 mark he needs to become the most successful shot-stopper in Hockey East history at the end of his season.

Hawkey had an impressive .950 save percentage in the same game, blocking 38 of the 40 shots directed towards his cage. He used his quick glove to nullify some great scoring chances. The dangerous forwards on Northeastern — including Adam Gaudette, the favourite for the Hobey Baker — were often buzzing around his net, but Hawkey successfully challenged them all night.

Here's a montage of some the best saves by Habs netminders on the night.

Providence lost the Hockey East Championship on Saturday to Boston University. After playing past midnight on Friday, Hawkey had an even better showing in his second game in two days with a .964 save percentage that, unfortunately, wasn't enough to give his team the win.

Both Northeastern and Providence will participate in the NCAA’s end-of-season tournament, having real challenges ahead of them next week, playing against Michigan and Clarkson university, respectively. Strong performances from their goalies will be necessary to advance in the tournament, but they have more than showcased already that they can stand on their head when it counts.

Ryan Poehling #11, C, St. Cloud State

It was a disappointing performance from the whole of St. Cloud State on Saturday. They lost 4-1 to Denver in the NCHC title game, against a team that has challenged them all season long.

A bright spot for Habs fan: Poehling had the lone goal in that game. Like he did ever so often this season, he charged the net and found a loose puck to slip in. It was his 14th of the season, meaning that he has now doubled his total from last year.

Poehling sits tied for third on his team in goals, only three back of Mikey Eyssimont, who is often seen as the best scorer on St. Cloud.

The Huskies of St. Cloud State will face Air Force Academy to start the Frozen Four tournament. They will want to bounce back against a weaker team, making a statement to the world of hockey that they are still the number-one team to beat going into the hardest part of their calendar.

Follow David (@RinksideView) on Twitter for daily prospect updates.

NCAA/USHL weekly performance

Player Pos Conference Team GP G A P
Player Pos Conference Team GP G A P
Jake Evans C Big Ten Notre Dame 1 0 2 2
Nikolas Koberstein RD WCHA Alaska-Fairbanks Season over
Ryan Poehling C NCHC St. Cloud State 1 1 0 1
Casey Staum LD USHL Dubuque Injured

NCAA/USHL season to date

Player Pos Conference Team GP G A P
Player Pos Conference Team GP G A P
Jake Evans C Big Ten Notre Dame 36 11 29 40
Nikolas Koberstein RD WCHA Alaska-Fairbanks 36 1 11 12
Ryan Poehling C NCHC St. Cloud State 35 14 17 31
Casey Staum LD USHL Dubuque 18 0 3 3

Goalies weekly performance

Player League Team Record GAA Sv% SO
Player League Team Record GAA Sv% SO
Hayden Hawkey NCAA Providence 1-1-0 1.40 0.957 0
Cayden Primeau NCAA Northeastern 0-0-1 2.57 0.912 0

Goalies season to date

Player League Team Record GAA Sv% SO
Player League Team Record GAA Sv% SO
Hayden Hawkey NCAA Providence 23-11-3 2.1 0.917 3
Cayden Primeau NCAA Northeastern 20-6-6 1.88 0.932 3