NEW HAVEN — They were going to get it done, no matter what. That was the mindset of the Notre Dame Green Knights as the team came out for the third period of the Division I semifinals against Fairfield Prep Wednesday night, trailing by two goals at Ingalls Rink.
To the Green Knights’ credit, they took it to the Jesuits in the latter part of the third period, used a pair of goals by Ryan Lynch in the final 6 minutes, 26 seconds of the third period, and forced overtime.
Sometimes things are not meant to be.
Matt Wikman’s goal off an odd-man rush 5:45 into sudden death overtime ended Notre Dame’s dream of a state title and sent the Jesuits back to the title game Saturday afternoon again Darien, an upset winner in the other semifinal contest.
“We battled,” Notre Dame coach Tim Belcher said after his team closed the season at 15-7-1. “I told the guys there were 3,000 people here tonight and all but four thought we were dead. That was all the coaches.
“We played hard in that third period. We just wanted to get the puck on net. Ryan (Lynch) got two big goals. We did what we could to tie it. We just needed a few more minutes.”
Belcher was correct as the Jesuits desperately wanted overtime after Kyle Lynch was denied by Prep goaltender Matt Beck in the final minute of a third period owned by the Green Knights in the final 10 minutes.
“In overtime, it was one of those things where momentum was on our side,” Belcher said. “They had to resurface the ice and they responded.
“We knew one team was going to come out on the short end and it stinks that it was us.”
Unfortunately for Notre Dame, the Jesuits had a chance to regroup before the extra period and completely controlled overtime to a tune of 8-1 in shots. The eighth shot was the winner for the Jesuits as Wikman’s backhander ended a superb effort by Notre Dame goaltender Wade Conlan.
Conlan stopped 37 shots, many in sensational fashion in keeping the Green Knights in the game. The junior goaltender’s best save came with 4:25 left in regulation after Ryan Lynch had gotten the Green Knights within a goal minutes earlier.
Wikman broke in on Conlan, deked to his right, but was thwarted by a huge pad save by Conlan. Just 2:09 later, Ryan Lynch’s shot trickled by Beck to even the game at 3.
“Wade was just unbelievable,” Belcher said. “He was unbelievable in the entire playoff run and even in the regular season when he was in net.
“It was just one of those things where he went down and (Matt) Wikman had an opening in the top shelf and he hit it. It was a great shot.”
For the Green Knights, it came down to the third period because Prep controlled play in the opening two periods.
The Jesuits outshot the Green Knights 23-16 in the opening 30 minutes, including 15-9 in the middle period.
The Jesuits seemed to win every battle and led 1-0 after one period on a goal by Dean Lockery and 2-0 after two periods on a tally by Ryan Deering. Matt McKinney was denied by Conlan twice in front 4:33 into the middle period and Wikman was robbed in front by Conlan with 6:39 to go in the period.
Kyle Lynch gave Notre Dame hope with a power-play goal 1:04 into the third period, then had two more solid opportunities to even the game in the next 2 minutes, but was denied by Beck.
Just 10 seconds after Beck stoned Kyle Lynch in front, Prep came down the ice and regained the two-goal lead on a goal by William Schlichtig with 11:19 to go. With the season on the cusp, Ryan Lynch took over, scoring twice in 4:10 to force the extra session.
“We win as a team and we lose as a team,” Ryan Lynch said. “Tonight, we lost as a team. We will always be a team in there.”
The Green Knights may not take home the state title, but their character will not get questioned. Seven seniors graduate, but a solid core returns for Belcher next season.
“I told the guys they have nothing to hang their heads about,” Belcher said. “Those guys are upset in there for good reason. We showed we could climb back in there after basically being left for dead. We showed great character.”
Beck finished with 26 saves for the Jesuits.