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Icers make NCAAs for first time in program’s history

Justin Schuver | Wednesday, May 12, 2004

A season that started with several question marks ended with the Irish making team history, as Notre Dame advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in the program’s 36-year history.Although Notre Dame lost in the first round of the tournament, falling 5-2 to defending national champion Minnesota, the Irish were able to finally put their program on the national map.”I’m proud of the way our guys played,” Irish coach Dave Poulin said after the loss. “We played hard, but came up a little bit short, obviously. It’s a great step for our program.”For the seniors, I appreciate the path that they have taken to get us here. For the underclassmen, it’s a new level now that they have the chance to improve upon.”Notre Dame’s seniors played an especially large role during the regular season, with forwards Aaron Gill and Rob Globke pacing the team offensively while defensemen Tom Galvin, Neil Komadoski and Brett Lebda helped the team’s defense stay at the top of its game.With the offense and defense covered by the seniors, the team’s biggest question mark coming into the regular season was goaltending. Junior Morgan Cey, the 2002-03 season starter, was returning from offseason surgery at the time and was unable to play for the first three weeks of the season.Sophomore Rory Walsh and freshman David Brown played admirably in Cey’s absence, collecting a 3-2 record over the team’s first five games of the regular season.The Irish opened their year with a sign of things to come, knocking off then-No. 15 Ohio State on the road by a score of 5-2. Walsh, making his first career start in goal, turned away 31 saves in the victory, and Globke helped provide offense with a hat trick.”It was a good way to start the season,” Poulin succinctly said after the game.Although the Irish would lose the second game of that opening series against the Buckeyes, the team set a precedent that would continue throughout the season and eventually play the biggest role in their first-ever NCAA bid – the ability to defeat ranked teams on the road.Perhaps the biggest such win of the season would come Oct. 24, as the Irish shutout then-No. 1 Boston College by a score of 1-0 in the Golden Eagles’ home opener in front of a sellout crowd of 7,884 spectators. Brown made 27 saves in the victory, which was his second consecutive shutout.Brown would continue his stellar play in his next start against Nebraska-Omaha, making 22 saves in a 2-0 victory to set a new Notre Dame record with three consecutive shutouts. Brown maintained a scoreless streak of 193 minutes, 17 seconds, breaking a record that Cey had set in the 2002-03 season.Brown and Cey would rotate starts through the rest of the regular season, with each stepping up big in key games. Cey made 32 saves as the team shutout then-No. 3 Maine Dec. 28 at the Everblades Holiday Classic in Estero, Fla., while Brown made 30 saves in Notre Dame’s 3-1 victory over then-No. 4 Wisconsin on the road Jan. 19.The Irish finished the CCHA regular season with a 14-11-3 mark in conference play, finishing in fifth-place overall and earning home-ice advantage for the first round of the CCHA playoffs.Notre Dame faced Western Michigan in a best-of-three tournament to go to the Super Six in Detroit, defeating the Broncos 4-0 March 12, falling by a score of 4-0 the next day, and then winning a 5-4 overtime thriller in the final game of the series. Freshman forward Jason Paige came up with the game-winner at 12:35 of overtime, sending the Irish to the second round of the CCHA playoffs for the fourth time in five years.”To come away with that win was a real emotional win for us,” Poulin said after the nailbiting victory.Although the Irish would lose their Super Six opener 6-5 in overtime against Ohio State, the eventual champion, the team’s regular season prowess against ranked teams led to the Irish achieving and at-large bid and the No. 4 seed in the Grand Rapids, Mich. Regional of the NCAA Tournament.