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Hockey: Brown named to All-Conference first team

Kyle Cassily | Saturday, March 10, 2007

Notre Dame goalie Dave Brown had a little surprise waiting for him when he got off the ice after practice Wednesday – the news that only minutes before he had been named to the CCHA all-conference first-team.

The senior Hobey Baker candidate became only the second Irish player in history to be named to the all-conference first team – defenseman Benoit Cotnoir was awarded the honor in 1998-99.

“It’s a great honor, and I’m very excited and very proud to be honored,” Brown said. “I wouldn’t be able to be on an all-conference team without my great guys on my team, especially my defensemen who are battling for me every night.”

Irish sophomore right wing Erik Condra and senior defenseman Noah Babin were also named to the honorable mention squad. Seven Notre Dame players have been awarded second-team all-conference status in Irish history.

Three Michigan players – forward T.J. Hensick and defensemen Jack Johnson and Matt Hunwick – joined Brown on the first team. Northern Michigan forward Mike Santorelli and Nebraska-Omaha forward Scott Parse rounded out the all-conference first team.

Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson said he was a little disappointed that several players did not earn recognition – or enough of it. He noted that Condra had one of the highest plus/minus ratios in the league, while junior center Mark Van Guilder and the entire defensive corps have been enormous contributors this season.

“There’s a reason why we have the best penalty killing unit in the country this year, and those defensemen get overlooked for doing that,” Jackson said. “To me, it’s about the total package.”

Brown has a 25-5-3 record with a 1.77 goals-against average in 1,997 minutes of play this season. The senior has five shutouts this season while making 708 saves.

“[Van Guilder and Condra are] so consistent, they’ve just been the heart and soul of this offense,” Brown said. “It would have been nice to get a couple more guys on it, for sure.”

Sciba returns

Irish forward Josh Sciba will play at least one game this weekend for the first time since the senior was lost to an arm injury over five weeks ago, Jackson said.

Sciba and Jackson both said that he is healthy enough to play against Alaska, but the Irish coach is reluctant to remove players from the lineup that have played well in Sciba’s absence.

“[We’ve] got some kids that are playing really well right now, so just making the decision to take them out of the lineup isn’t necessarily the right thing to do,” Jackson said. “[Sciba has] worked extremely hard to get himself ready to play this weekend.”

Sophomore Justin White proved to be a capable replacement for Sciba, scoring a game-tying goal late in the third period in a Feb. 9 win against Nebraska-Omaha. White joined with freshman Dan Kissel and junior Evan Rankin during several games to create Notre Dame’s fastest line.

Junior defenseman Dan VeNard was faced with a situation similar to Sciba’s when he returned from a leg injury several weeks ago. In his place, freshman Brett Blatchford had become a key component of the Irish blue line while paired up with fellow freshman Kyle Lawson. VeNard saw time in Saturday’s season closing win against Ferris State.

“When you get injured right now on our team – like Danny VeNard found out – it’s not easy to get back in because somebody was playing so well,” Jackson said. “It’s the same thing with Sciba.”

Sciba was the leading goal scorer for the Irish last season and has seven goals and 10 assists in 27 games this year.

“I’ve talked to coach a little bit, and he said basically go out there and earn your spot back in the lineup,” Sciba said. “He always likes to put those points in your mind to challenge you a little bit. “

Jackson learns from mistake

The 1990-91 Lake Superior State team coached by Jackson had a 29-game win streak, league regular season and playoff titles and a No. 1 ranking – and then they hit a bye week.

That Lakers team – the best team Jackson has said he ever coached – fell at home in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament to No. 12 Clarkson in a three-game series. And now Jackson’s Irish are faced with a similar situation after the team sat at home last weekend while the first round of the CCHA playoffs was played out.

Jackson said his Lakers team lost because he failed to prepare them for the game. The Lakers were given too much time off, lacked discipline and did not take Clarkson seriously, he said.

This time, however, Jackson has refused to make the same mistake twice. The Irish held an intra-squad scrimmage Saturday night in the normal game-time slot and have held hour and a half on-ice practices each day this week.

“I’ve prepared differently, all you can do as a coach is learn,” Jackson said. “You live and you learn. And I didn’t prepare a team to be ready at the end of that bye [in 1991].”

Pearce ready in backup role

In the third and deciding game of last year’s playoff series against Alaska, Brown was taken out by a Nanooks player diving to make a play at the puck at the top of the wing circle and the Irish goalie was forced to leave the game with an ankle injury.

Then-freshman backup goalie Jordan Pearce stepped into the void and did not allow any more goals, but Alaska advanced in the playoffs with a 1-0 victory anyway.

This year, Pearce has worked extensively with Jackson to prepare for another scenario in which the sophomore would have to backstop the Irish at a moment’s notice.

Jackson spent extra time alone on the ice with Pearce in the past two weeks to physically prepare the goaltender.

“He’s much better prepared right now,” Jackson said. “It’s up to him to be ready emotionally. Jordan has the ability to do it. It’s just a matter of him being mentally prepared to play – ready for the challenge.”

Paige named scholar-athlete

Irish alternate captain Jason Paige was named Tuesday as the team’s scholar-athlete of the year – the second straight year in which the senior finance major has earned the honor.

Paige, who has been selected to the Dean’s List two times, will now be up for the CCHA’s scholar athlete of the year award to be announced March 15 at the Awards Banquet in Detroit. Paige was given the Notre Dame Rockne Student-Athlete Award in 2006 and has a 3.612 cumulative grade-point average.

“It’s something that is definitely important to me,” Paige said. “I want to excel in the classroom because as far as my future, I want to have all the options I can. One thing I will say, over half the guys on this team are definitely deserving of that award.”

After his hockey career is finished, Paige said he might like to pursue a career in private wealth management or real estate.