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Hockey: ND shows no patience for Nanooks

Kyle Cassily and Dan Murphy | Monday, December 4, 2006

No. 5 Notre Dame got a polar-bear sized load off its back and swept No. 14 Alaska in a two-game series at the Joyce Center this weekend – the same Nanooks team that beat the Irish in three straight meetings to close out last season, including two losses to knock them from the CCHA playoffs.

The Irish (12-3-1, 7-2-1 CCHA) defeated the Nanooks (6-4-4, 4-3-3 CCHA) 3-1 and 6-2 to move out of a tie for third place with Alaska in the league standings and three points behind league-leading No. 4 Miami.

“A whole lot faster, a whole lot bigger, a whole lot stronger, a whole lot better coached, a whole lot better goaltending – a whole lot of everything,” Alaska coach Tavis MacMillan said of Notre Dame’s play in comparison to the Nanooks on the weekend.

The Irish were led by junior right wing Mark Van Guilder, who regained the scoring touch he had lost the previous two weekends and beat Nanooks goaltender Chad Johnson three times in two games, and left wing Ryan Thang (two goals) and defenseman Kyle Lawson (goal, assist).

Irish goalie Dave Brown made 38 saves in two games, surrendering just three goals.

The two teams combined for only 16 penalties in two games despite a first contest dominated by big checks and numerous scrums in front of the nets.

“Can you imagine college football teams playing Saturday and Sunday nights,” Irish coach Jeff Jackson said. “Hockey is an emotional, physical sport and Saturday nights are usually toned down from Friday nights.”

In the first game, three quick goals midway through the third period gave the Irish a 3-1 victory.

Thang got the scoring started with a shorthanded goal at 9:14. Junior Michael Bartlett hit Thang with a pass at center ice and the freshman skated down the right side of the ice, muscled past an Alaska defenseman and slipped the puck through Johnson’s pads.

The goal, Notre Dame’s fourth shorthanded tally of the season, gave the team a much needed spark as it pounded in two more in the next two minutes.

Thirty seconds later defenseman Brett Blatchford secured his first collegiate goal when he put a wrist shot past Johnson’s blocker side. Center Garret Regan picked up this assist, his third of the year.

The final goal came when Van Guilder took control of the puck in the Nanooks zone. The junior right wing skated towards the middle and got off a shot as he was being tripped up. The goal ended Van Guilder’s four game scoring drought, which went back to a 4-0 win over Bowling Green Nov. 11.

“It takes a lot of pressure off, it was pretty nice to get one tonight and hopefully we can keep it going,” Van Guilder said.

Despite outshooting the Nanooks 34-22, the Irish trailed for most of the game as Alaska picked up an early goal 10 minutes into the contest. Sophomore Ryan Muspratt ripped a shot that bounced off Brown’s facemask and rang the inside of the crossbar. Referee Matt Shegos initially waved the goal off but when Notre Dame scooped the puck up and scored on the ensuing odd-man rush, the call was reviewed and reversed.

“On the bench we all thought [the Alaska shot] had gone in,” Jackson said. “That’s why we have instant replay.”

Alaska held on to the lead for two periods before the Irish offense exploded in the third. Notre Dame was able to come from behind by physically wearing down the Nanooks and beating them to the loose pucks late in the game.

“I’m sick of watching guys stand around and fish for pucks,” MacMillan said. “Too many guys want to stand there like they’re holding a hoe – get a shovel.”

In the second game of the series, Notre Dame neutralized Alaska’s offense – outshooting the Nanooks 33 to 19 – and stymied its defense and goaltending version of musical chairs with speed and scoring chances to win 6-2.

“They throw pucks from everywhere,” MacMillan said. “They get pucks on net and crash the net. We seem to think that you have to create a Van Gogh to score a goal – you have to create a masterpiece. I don’t understand our mentality that way.”

Irish left wing Evan Rankin, making his first appearance in several weeks, knocked starting goalie Johnson out of the game for a portion of the second period with a wraparound goal 2:30 into the period for the 2-1 Irish lead. Junior Wylie Rogers, who had not played since a Nov. 24 tie with Lake Superior State, took over between the pipes, but surrendered three goals on seven shots to the Irish before Johnson was put back in the game.

“I’m sure it was difficult,” Jackson said of replacing Johnson with Rogers. “I’ve been there. It’s not easy coming in cold, especially when the momentum is going the other way.”

Thang then opened up the Notre Dame lead to 3-1 at 4:27 when he beat Rogers high glove side on his first shot faced. He received the pass from Lawson in the corner while he curled toward the net along the top of the right face off circle, getting the shot off wide open from inside the slot.

Lawson added the first goal of his career at 8:15 and the fourth of the game with a slap shot from the right point that deflected off a Nanooks player and into the net just below the crossbar. Van Guilder slapped in his second of the game for the 5-1 Irish lead at 9:13.

“It was kind of getting to me,” Lawson said. “It’s tough to get that first one, but hopefully a couple more will come.”

The Nanooks and Irish exchanged goals nine seconds apart in the 16th minute of the second period for the 6-2 final. On the power play, Alaska’s Brandon Knelsen got the first goal of his career before center Jason Paige answered for the Irish with his sixth on the season.

The two teams exchanged first period goals in a slow start reminiscent of the first two periods of play Saturday.

“We were sluggish out of the gate,” Jackson said. “It was just a matter of getting back to playing the way we are capable of playing “

The Irish capitalized on a turnover for the lead at 12:13 on their own blue line when Nanooks right wing Adam Naglich coughed up the puck to Mark Van Guilder, creating a three-on-two. Van Guilder drove up the left side of the ice and fired a low wrist shot at Johnson’s five-hole that was saved. Van Guilder, however, shoveled in the puck seconds later from the front of the crease with an assist from Noah Babin and Garrett Regan.

Alaska tied the game at 14:50 when the puck deflected off an Irish defender and bounced onto the stick of Nanooks left wing Kyle Greentree in the right slot. Brown was still caught on the left side of the net and Greentree slid the puck into the open low right side.