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For the Irish this year, the sky is the limit

Justin Schuver | Monday, March 1, 2004

Let’s put this thing in perspective.The last time Notre Dame swept Michigan at home in hockey was March 5-6, 1982. Freshman goalie David Brown, who started and won both games for the Irish this weekend, wasn’t even alive.For that matter, neither were Mike Walsh, Jason Paige, T.J. Jindra, Neil Komadoski, nor Rob Globke – who all scored goals in Notre Dame’s sweep.These guys sure looked like they were born to beat Michigan.”Me being a freshman, I really wasn’t that aware of the Michigan rivalry,” Brown said after Saturday’s 5-2 victory. “I’ve sure learned how to hate them though in the days leading up to this weekend.”There’s no question this weekend meant a lot more to the Irish than the visiting Wolverines. Michigan needed only two points to clinch the CCHA regular season championship, while Notre Dame was fighting for home ice in the first round of the CCHA playoffs.The Irish were poised to make a compelling case for inclusion in the 16-member NCAA tournament. Michigan, meanwhile, was hoping to move up in its seeding – the NCAA is already a lock for the maize and blue.Notre Dame certainly looked like the team who wanted it more Friday, outshooting Michigan and really doing a great job on defense of stopping the Wolverines’ speedy forwards. Wearing brand-new green jerseys, the Irish played as perfect a game as they have all season, eventually defeating their visitors from the north by a score of 4-1.During that game, Michigan’s starting goalie Al Montoya injured his groin and was replaced by Noah Ruden. Ruden returned to start Saturday night as well.”We talked before this game, and I said that Michigan was really going to come out and rally around [Ruden],” Poulin said Saturday.Notre Dame’s coach might want to consider moonlighting as a fortuneteller, because that’s exactly what happened. The Irish didn’t even get a shot on Ruden Saturday until 8:44 into the game.Luckily for the Irish, that first shot also turned out to be a goal. Notre Dame’s early lead only seemed to infuriate Michigan, though, who came back in the second period with two goals in less than three minutes to take the lead.At that point, Notre Dame could have folded. After all, they’d already done more than anyone had expected of them – beating Michigan at the Joyce Center the night before. It would have been easy to have taken the two points from Friday and play a less-passionate effort Saturday – to just be satisfied with a split.It was Senior Night, though, and Notre Dame’s seniors had more pride than that.”Us seniors have been through a lot of games in the past where we were getting outscored, and we learned to stay patient and work through it,” senior forward Globke said. “We knew that we just needed to keep playing our game and that things would work out eventually.”It made sense then that Komadoski – a senior – would score the goal to make it 2-2. Just another example of David (Brown and his teammates) beating Goliath. This season, the Irish have knocked off a total of four teams who are currently ranked in the top six (No. 1 Boston College, No. 3 Maine, No. 4 Michigan and No. 6 Wisconsin). Assuming Notre Dame doesn’t completely collapse toward the end of this season, the first NCAA Tournament berth in the school’s history could be on the horizon with that kind of impressive rsum. They’ve certainly shown they are capable of beating the country’s very best.In discussing the play of his seniors Saturday, Poulin had a quote referring to the only one who didn’t play – T.J. Mathieson, who has a 3.812 GPA in Aeronautical Engineering.”He’ll certainly be the best astronaut in that bunch, I’ll tell you that much,” Poulin said.A fitting comment, considering that Mathieson and the rest of his teammates now have every right to shoot for the stars.

The ideas and views presented in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer. Contact Justin Schuver at jschuver@nd.edu.