The Notre Dame Fighting Irish took a break from CCHA play on Friday night as they played host to the U.S. National Team Developmental Program's Under-18 Team at the Joyce Center in exhibition action.
The final verdict would not be decided until the 2:24 mark of overtime when senior right wing Evan Rankin whipped a shot from the right wing circle past goaltender Joe Cannata to give Notre Dame a 2-1 victory in the extra period. The U.S. Under-18 team's Vinny Saponari and Notre Dame's Garrett Regan traded first period goals in the game.
The exhibition win improved the Irish to 3-1 over the U.S. Under-18 Team in four meetings. Team USA is now 15-17-3 on the year.
Head coach Jeff Jackson was able to keep his team ready for the final stretch run by playing the exhibition versus the program he started back in 1996.
"I knew by playing these guys, it was going to be a high tempo game because they are extremely fast. By playing a team like that, I know they aren't going to be overly physical to put you in the position to get injured," explained Jackson.
"Playing a speed team helps you the following week because you are playing at a high tempo. It helped keep our game intensity for next week and that's what it was meant to do. It was better than having a practice."
Team USA got on the scoreboard first just five seconds after an Irish penalty ended when Saponari took a feed from Ryan Bourque and fired it past Phillips at the 15:00-minute mark.
Jordan Schroeder started the play by keeping the puck in at the blue line. He fed the puck to Bourque on the right side of the goal. When Phillips slid over to face Bourque, the left wing slid it to Saponari at the bottom of the left circle where he fired it home for his ninth goal of the year.
Notre Dame would answer less than four minutes later when Regan was able to tuck a rebound past Cannata at the 18:51 mark.
Defenseman Ian Cole moved the puck from the left point to the right where Stewart Carlin fired a shot on goal. Cannata made the save but Regan was there to tie the game at 1-1.
The score would stay that way until Rankin's overtime game winner. Regan moved the puck ahead to Christian Hanson who broke down the right wing boards. Hanson drew the defense to him and slid the puck to Rankin coming down the slot. The senior fired a low, hard shot that found the back of the net to give the Irish a 2-1 win at the 2:24 mark of overtime.
Sophomore goaltender Tom O'Brien, making his first career appearance, picked up the win by playing the third period and overtime. He made seven saves in the third period, including a pair of saves on a Team USA power play in the final two minutes of regulation.
"I've been wanting to get him in and have been trying to do it for awhile," said Jackson. "It had nothing to do with Brad (Phillips). He played well over the first two periods. I didn't make the decision until after the second period. I had thought about playing Jordan (Pearce) too. But Jordan said he would sacrifice the period if Tommy could play."
"Tommy has worked extremely hard; he's battled everyday and he deserved an opportunity to play and show what he could do. I thought he played great. He won the game. He made the saves he had to," added Jackson.
The Irish begin the final eight-game home stretch next week when they play host to Ferris State in a two-game series at the Joyce Center. Friday's game starts at 7:35 p.m.