Justin Schuver | Monday, March 1, 2004
Not even green jerseys could stop the Irish this weekend.
The Irish (17-11-4, 13-10-3 in the CCHA) swept Michigan (23-10-1, 18-7-1) at home for their fourth sweep of a CCHA opponent at the Joyce Center this year. None was bigger than this one, though, as Notre Dame convincingly defeated the No. 4-ranked team in the country and first place team in the conference.
Wearing alternate uniforms each night, the Irish first defeated the Wolverines 4-1 Friday wearing their green jerseys. They completed the sweep Saturday in their gold jerseys, defeating Michigan 5-2.
No matter what color sweater, the story was the same, with Notre Dame having the early momentum in each game before Michigan would make a run to either cut into the deficit or tie the game back up.
A constant in goal for the Irish through those potent Wolverine offensive outbursts was freshman goalie David Brown.
Brown, who has had one of the best rookie seasons ever in a Notre Dame uniform, was good – and at times great – this weekend, stopping a combined 62 shots in the two victories.
“It’s just started since the beginning of the year,” Brown said after Saturday’s game. “Coming in as a freshman, no one really knew what I could do. I got my chance to prove myself and I was able to really take advantage of it.”
The Irish have made a living knocking off ranked teams on the road or neutral sites this season, with No. 1 Boston College, No. 3 Maine and then-No. 4 Wisconsin their first victims. This was the first and only time that Notre Dame had a chance to defeat a ranked team at the Joyce Center, and in front of two consecutive sellouts, the team took advantage of that chance.
“We always say that each game is worth two points, but I think that there are certain points throughout the season where you look back and say, ‘Okay, that’s where we took the next step,'” Irish coach Dave Poulin said. “I think this was a very big weekend, not just on the micro level [of this season] put perhaps even on the macro level [in the history of the program].”
With their wins this weekend, the Irish moved up in the RPI rankings from No. 16 to No. 13, and currently sit at the same level in the PairWise Rankings – two of the biggest components in deciding the 10 at-large bids for the 16-team NCAA Tournament.
They also took a large step toward securing home ice in the first round of the CCHA playoffs – which goes to the top six teams in the conference. Notre Dame currently sits tied for fifth with Alaska Fairbanks with 29 points, and only one point behind fourth place Ohio State.
Friday night’s game started with a relatively defensive first period, as neither team could get a goal against either Brown or Michigan’s All-American goalie Al Montoya. The Irish solved Montoya just 1:17 into the second period, as Matt Amado made a perfect cross-ice pass to T.J. Jindra, who roofed the puck over Montoya for an early Irish lead.
Notre Dame would add to its lead less than 10 minutes later as Cory McLean scored on a breakaway, beating Montoya through the five-hole as McLean was being chased by a Michigan defenseman.
“I knew he was chasing me, but he was a defenseman and I just wanted to use my speed to hopefully get by him,” McLean said. “I was able to get by him and luckily the puck went in for me.”
The Irish would make the score 3-0 when Jason Paige scored a rebound goal on the power play at 14:45 of the second period. Montoya crumpled to the ice following the goal after apparently injuring himself and was replaced by sophomore Noah Ruden.
The change in goal sparked the Michigan offense, as the team got on the board on a power play at 3:15 of the third, with Eric Nystrom scoring on a deflection. Nystrom’s goal broke Notre Dame’s streak of 36 straight penalty kills.
Notre Dame responded with a power play goal of its own -with Paige again collecting loose change and pushing the puck past Ruden.
“That goal [to make it 4-1] was a very big goal, because Michigan’s a very good team and we didn’t want to give them any momentum,” Poulin said. “Coming back and answering their power play goal with one of our own was enormous.”
Senior defenseman Brett Lebda picked up an assist on that goal and also assisted Paige’s earlier goal and Amado’s second-period goal. It was the third three-point game of the defenseman’s career and his second with three or more assists.
For the game, Notre Dame outshot Michigan by a count of 26-24.
Saturday, Michigan came out and bottled up the Irish in the defensive zone seemingly all game, outshooting Notre Dame 41-16. Notre Dame capitalized on its few offensive looks, however, scoring four goals against Ruden before Cory McLean iced the game in the third period with an empty-net goal.
The Irish scored on their very first shot of the game at 8:44 of the first period, when Mike Walsh threw a shot at the net that appeared to hit a Michigan defenseman before beating Ruden to the short side.
When Michigan came out in the second period, it came out with a vengeance, with Jeff Tambellini scoring the equalizer just 20 seconds into the frame. Less than two minutes later, Andrew Ebbett gave Michigan its first lead on the weekend when he poked a loose puck past Brown during a scrum in front of the Notre Dame goal.
Poulin immediately called a timeout to try and settle his troops.
“Michigan really rallied around their young netminder,” he said. “They got us out of our game in the second period with those two goals, so we took the timeout to just try and settle things down some.”
The move worked, as defenseman Neil Komadoski scored at 15:43 of the second with a hard slap shot from the blue line to the top right corner that eluded Ruden. Just 17 seconds later, T.J. Jindra outskated a Michigan defender to a loose puck in the corner and made a backhanded pass to Amado, who was skating down the slot.
Amado whipped the puck past Ruden and gave Notre Dame the lead back, setting off an enthusiastic celebration from the crowd. The Irish took advantage of that momentum and tried to pull away even more, but Josh Sciba hit a post and Lebda shot just high on a breakaway near the end of the second period.
The Irish would need to wait until the third period to get their insurance goal, but it came off the stick of senior forward Rob Globke, who deflected a Paige shot from the blue line past Ruden at 7:10 of the third period.
“It was really important for us to come out tonight and play just as good as we did [Friday night],” Globke said Saturday. “It’s something that we discussed earlier and something that the coaches put upon us and we were able to come through.”
Notre Dame closes out its season on the road, traveling to Lake Superior State for a two game conference series against the Lakers starting Friday.