Hockey Analysis: Nanooks await Irish in playoffs
Kyle Cassily | Tuesday, March 6, 2007
For the second time in as many years, the Irish will face off against Alaska, their colorful head coach Tavis MacMillan, physical sniper Kyle Greentree and the rest of the burly Nanooks in the CCHA playoffs.
No. 1 Notre Dame will host Alaska in the second round of the playoffs starting Friday night, after the Nanooks upset their first-round opponent Sunday. The 11th-seeded Nanooks knocked off sixth-seeded Western Michigan, 3-1 to take the best-of-three game series, while Notre Dame was idle this weekend after earning a first-round bye as one of the top four teams to finish the regular season.
The first-place Irish (27-6-3, 21-4-3 CCHA) have played eight games against Alaska in the past two seasons, including a four-game, regular-season sweep this year. Alaska (11-20-6, 7-16-5 CCHA) knocked Notre Dame out of the first round of last year’s league playoffs with a two-game sweep in South Bend. That first-round win came only one weekend after the two teams played to a split in the last series of the regular season -with all four games played at Notre Dame.
The Irish outscored the Nanooks 13-5 in their four meetings this season, which included two early December wins of 3-1 and 6-2 against then-No. 14 Alaska. Notre Dame then took two games 1-0 and 3-2 in Fairbanks in mid-February. The all-time record between the two teams is deadlocked at 20-20-3, with last year’s playoff series the only time the two have met in the playoffs prior to this season.
Alaska, however, did not own the only upset of the first round of the CCHA playoffs last weekend.
Tenth-seeded Northern Michigan defeated seventh-seeded Ohio State to advance. Fifth-seeded Nebraska-Omaha took their series with last-place Bowling Green, while eighth-place Lake Superior State advanced to the second round with wins over ninth-seeded Ferris State.
Three other second-round matchups this weekend will determine – along with the Notre Dame-Alaska winner – who moves onto the semifinals in Detroit for a chance to win the crowning Mason Cup at Joe Louis Arena.
Second-seeded Michigan will play Northern Michigan, while third-seeded Miami will host Lake Superior and fourth-seeded Michigan State will face off against Nebraska-Omaha.
uThree Irish freshmen were named Monday to the CCHA all-rookie team, making Notre Dame only the third school in league history to have three players named to the six-man honorary roster.
Forwards Kevin Deeth and Ryan Thang and defenseman Kyle Lawson were awarded spots on the all-rookie team along with Western Michigan forward Mark Letestu, goalie Riley Gill and Nebraska-Omaha defenseman Eddie Del Grosso. Michigan has had three freshmen named to the team five different times, while Michigan State has had it happen once.
Irish sophomore Erik Condra was named as a forward to last year’s all-rookie team. Condra and his teammates represent four of nine freshmen to earn the honor in Notre Dame history.
Deeth has 34 points this season with 16 goals and 18 assists, while Thang tied his linemate with 34 tallies also on 17 goals and 17 assists. Both freshman forwards played on Notre Dame’s offensive powerhouse line this season with Condra.
Lawson had three goals and 13 assists on the year with a plus/minus ratio of 19. He also won the bronze medal while serving as alternate captain on the U.S. Junior National Team at the 2007 World Championships in Sweden.