MONTREAL - There's nothing senior Jake Evans would like more than to close out his collegiate career on top.
In order to do that, the 21-year-old centerman and the University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish will first have to punch their ticket to the Frozen Four by winning the NCAA Tournament's East Regional in Bridgeport, CT.
Evans and the Irish will open tournament play against Michigan Tech on Friday, with the winner moving on to play either Providence College or Clarkson University on Saturday for the right to move on to the national championship in early April.
"It's definitely an exciting time. This year, we've come in on a bit of a hot streak and on a high, and I think with a little bit more confidence, too, and a little more experience," said Evans, who captained the Irish to Big Ten regular-season and Big Ten Tournament titles this season. "We obviously can't take anything lightly, but we're just going to come in and try to do things right. We're excited to get things going."
And, the Irish certainly aren't lacking in motivation after watching their national title hopes slip away last spring when they suffered a 6-1 defeat in the national semi-finals to the University of Denver, who went on to win it all.
"We haven't really talked about that this year, but it's definitely been in the back our minds to get back there and try and redeem ourselves in a way. The way we went out is just some more motivation for us," explained Evans, on the group's resolve to return to the Frozen Four for a second straight year. "We want to get that chance again to prove ourselves and do something special."
Evans will undoubtedly play a key role in the success of the Irish going forward after leading head coach Jeff Jackson's contingent with 40 points (11 goals, 29 assists) through 36 games during the 2017-18 campaign.
But, his leadership ability and his experience will be valuable tools as well, having taken part in the tournament twice before.
"There are definitely a lot of highs and lows in these tournament games. You have a lot of momentum swings, so the biggest thing for us is to be confident in our abilities and be on the attack right away and get off to a good start," insisted Evans, on the key points he plans on emphasizing to his teammates leading up to puck drop against Michigan Tech. "You have to be intense and locked in right off the bat."
The Toronto native, who was selected in the seventh round, 207th overall by the Canadiens in 2014, believes the way the Irish have gone about their business already this season is a good indicator that they can play the type of hockey necessary to win these pressure-packed matchups.
"I'm really confident about this team. It's been one of those years where we haven't won games by three or four goals, but it's come down to the other team pulling their goalie or winning with a few minutes left. I like that because it shows that our team knows how to win. We'll find ways," mentioned Evans, citing the squad's two Big Ten Tournament victories, both of which were decided in dramatic fashion. "There wasn't really a panic button. We worked our way through it. There's a good feeling I'm getting about us."
Now, Evans is just four wins away from wrapping up his time at Notre Dame in style. It would be the perfect way to thank his supporters for four memorable years.
"This school's given me so much and the seniors so much. We've grown so close, so you want to go out on a high note. You also want to win for your coaches and your family. My parents have come down so much and supported me, so winning it for them would be awesome, too," concluded Evans. "You've just got to think of all the people you want to win it for and leave it all out on the table."