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Irish have proven naysayers wrong all season

Justin Schuver | Friday, March 26, 2004

If you’ve ever seen the movie “Major League II,” then you know about Randy Quaid’s minor uncredited role as a heckler named Johnny in the stands. No matter what the Cleveland Indians do on the field, Johnny is convinced that they will eventually blow it later in the season.”We just won the pennant,” an excited Indians fan screams. “Who cares,” Johnny says, “They’ll just blow it in the playoffs.”No matter what the Indians do, it’s never enough for Johnny, who seems to enjoy heckling his team more than cheering for them. So what if Johnny were a Notre Dame hockey fan this season?”So we beat Western Ontario in a meaningless exhibition game,” Johnny says. “So what? Let’s see this team beat No. 15 Ohio State on the road in front of a crowd of screaming Buckeye fans.”The Irish did just that, upsetting Ohio State in its home opener on Oct. 10 by a score of 5-2, giving Rory Walsh his first win as a Notre Dame goalie. Unfortunately, the Irish then lost their next game to the Buckeyes by a score of 3-1.”Ha, I told you so,” Johnny says. “This team does nothing but choke. Just watch when they play Boston College. Then you’ll see just how far these Irish have to go to play with the big boys.”Notre Dame not only showed they can compete with the big boys, but they showed they can win against them as well, knocking off then-No. 1 Boston College 1-0 in the Golden Eagles’ home opener. Goalie David Brown made 27 saves in the win.”So what,” Johnny says after that game. “Boston College had a few key players injured, and the Irish aren’t going to get that kind of goaltending in every big game. Wait until they play Maine over the Christmas break. Then you’ll see. They’ve got the best goalies in the country in Jim Howard and Frank Doyle; there’s no way the Irish can win that one.”The Irish showed that they’ve got a pretty good pair of goalies themselves, using Morgan Cey in net as Notre Dame collected a 1-0 win over Maine on Dec. 28 at the Everblades College Hockey Classic in Estero, Fla.”Fine, I guess even a blind squirrel finds a couple of acorns,” Johnny says. “But just wait until they go on the road to Wisconsin later this January. The Badgers have one of the toughest environments in the whole country to play in at the Kohl Center in Madison. The Fighting Irish will be the Crying Irish when it’s all over there.”Against then-No. 4 Wisconsin, Notre Dame came away with a 2-2 tie and a 3-1 win. At this point, Johnny’s getting a little frustrated.”Ha,” he says. “It was a meaningless non-conference game for Wisconsin. They just didn’t want to get any players hurt for the Western Collegiate Hockey Association season. Just wait until Notre Dame’s last home series against Michigan. Those Wolverines will show the Irish how CCHA hockey is played!”After all, Michigan was ranked No. 4 in the nation at the time, and was fighting with Miami of Ohio for that coveted first-place position in the CCHA. It would make sense to believe that the Irish would be lucky to come away with a tie against the mighty Wolverines that weekend of Feb. 27 and 28.The result? – Friday, Notre Dame 4, Michigan 1; Saturday, Notre Dame 5, Michigan 2.”Yeah, well Michigan was just looking ahead to Michigan State, their big in-state rival,” Johnny says. “And besides, Michigan beats Notre Dame at everything, so I guess they figured they’d be nice and let the Irish have a few games on the ice. Just wait until the CCHA Super Six – they’ll lose like they always do!”Unfortunately, Johnny was right for once, as Notre Dame lost 6-5 in overtime against eventual CCHA champion Ohio State. The Irish controlled the flow of the game and had two separate two-goal leads, but simply were unable to hold off the charging Buckeyes.”Ha,” Johnny says, in a rather good mood. “That overtime goal probably cost the Irish their chance at the NCAA’s. Too bad, guess they’ll just have to get their golfing equipment ready. And there’s always next year.”What Johnny didn’t realize, though, is that all those times he was wrong earlier in the season allowed Notre Dame to just squeak into the NCAA tournament bracket, earning a chance to take on No. 1 seed and two-time defending national champion Minnesota this Saturday in Grand Rapids, Mich.”Ha, you see,” Johnny says. “Minnesota’s the class of college hockey. Notre Dame’s the little kid from whom bullies like Minnesota take lunch money. This one will be a blowout. I guarantee it. And believe me, even if they do get past the Golden Gophers, there’s no way these Irish could ever win a national championship. No chance at all!”To be continued … Saturday.

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