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Hockey: Notre Dame splits home-and-home with MSU

Joe Meixell | Monday, November 20, 2006

No. 5 Notre Dame (9-2-1, 4-2-1 CCHA) and No. 4 Michigan State (6-3-1, 4-3-1 CCHA) traded home victories this weekend to remain in a four-way tie for fourth place in the CCHA.

Michigan State goalie Jeff Lerg got his second shutout of the year at Munn Ice Arena Saturday night as the Spartans avenged Friday’s loss with a 2-0 win. Lerg stopped all 25 Notre Dame shots – including 10 in the third period – to hold Notre Dame scoreless for the first time this season.

“Michigan State was pretty upset getting beat the way they did the night before,” Irish coach Jeff Jackson said. “I think that they were a much better team in the first period [on Saturday].”

Junior Bryan Lerg scored Michigan State’s first goal on the power play at 3:39 in the second period. Jim McKenzie threaded a pass through the Irish defense and Lerg fired it in to the back of the net.

That goal was the first power play goal given up by the Notre Dame defense since a 1-1 tie with Ohio State Nov. 4. The Irish penalty-killing unit is currently the best in the country, having given up only five goals in 66 attempts.

“I think our defense has played well and I have to credit coach [Paul] Pooley for the work he does with the penalty kill – a year ago it was a weakness of ours.” Jackson said.

Sophomore Tim Crowder had the Spartans’ other goal when he got loose around the top of the circles and snapped off a shot that beat goalie Dave Brown glove side.

East Lansing has not been kind to the Irish in recent history. Since 1992 the team has lost 19-of-22 games played on the road against Michigan State.

The loss snapped Notre Dame’s nine-game unbeaten streak that dated back to an Oct. 20 win over Boston College. During the stretch, the Irish outscored their opponents 36-7, including two shutouts for Brown.

Notre Dame 4,

Michigan State 1

A bigger, stronger Notre Dame team dominated the Spartans physically out of the gates at the Joyce Center Friday. Christian Hanson and freshman Christiaan Minella led the way by abusing the undersized Michigan State players. Minella, who made his second career start Friday night, has added a new component to the team with his 217-pound frame.

“We had to come out and really hit them to take them out of the game early,” Minella said, “We just wanted to go out and hit everybody.”

After a scoreless first period, Jason Paige got things going seven minutes into the second period with his fourth goal of the year.

Minella started the play with a perfect pass through a Spartan defender’s legs to defenseman Noah Babin. Babin fired a shot from the point and Paige rushed the net to pound in the loose puck.

“[Jeff Lerg]’s a small kid and we knew if we could get traffic there would be rebounds and we just had to capitalize when we got them,” Paige said.

The senior center scored his second rebound goal at 9:25 in the second period. Lerg stopped Wes O’Neill’s initial shot but sophomore Justin White grabbed the rebound and dished off to Paige to put the Irish up 2-0.

Notre Dame put the game away just 14 seconds later when White deflected a shot from Dan VeNard for the third goal of the night.

“I felt confident with our team going into this game, but they still have to learn to believe that they can win games like this,” Jackson said. “They haven’t experienced a lot of that.”

The teams traded goals in the final period with junior Brock Sheahan scoring his first career goal for the Irish. Bryan Lerg ruined the shutout by sneaking a shot under Brown’s arm that trickled into the net with 13 minutes remaining in the game.

Notre Dame will return to the road next weekend as it travels to Nebraska-Omaha for a two game series with the Mavericks.