Joe Meixell | Tuesday, March 20, 2007
DETROIT – It was a great night for the Irish this St. Patrick’s Day when Notre Dame won its first ever CCHA conference championship with a 2-1 victory over Michigan in a hostile Joe Louis Arena.
“It’s been a long time coming, and it’s something we’ve talked about since the time we came to Notre Dame,” Irish center Jason Paige said. “It’s just special to be a part of that.”
Senior goaltender Dave Brown made 31 saves, including several big stops in the final two minutes, en route to being named the tournament’s MVP. The Michigan goal was only the third that Brown allowed in four playoff games.
Wolverines netminder Billy Sauer also played outstanding between the pipes, with 35 saves, but one miscue in the final period cost him, and the rest of the Michigan club, a chance at their seventh CCHA title.
With just under 10 minutes remaining in the game, sophomore left wing Garrett Regan skated over the blue line and fired a shot at the net. Sauer was able to make the initial save, but fumbled with the rebound when he tried to sweep it into the far corner. Paige seized the opportunity and slapped the loose puck past him to give the Irish the win.
“It means a lot, but it means a lot more to see our team win,” Paige said. “One thing we did tonight in order to win was play as a team.”
The Michigan native played after breaking his nose the night before in the semifinal matchup against Lake Superior State.
The Wolverines threatened late in the game when Notre Dame defenseman Tom Sawatske was called for cross-checking, but the No. 1 defense in the country was able to make yet another stand to secure the comeback.
Michigan got out to the early 1-0 lead by scoring with only five seconds remaining in the opening stanza. After two initial saves by Brown, the puck squirted out to the high slot where left wing Kevin Porter buried a wrist shot in the top corner.
“Goals are precious in a game like this,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “It was a game that took different directions, and I thought we had some really good chances in the first period, even though we were killing off penalties.”
Porter and crew threatened several times throughout the period – they outshot the Irish 11 to nine and produced many more scoring chances.
The majority of those chances came for the Wolverines while on the penalty kill. The Irish powerplay unit was swarmed by the aggressive, speedy Michigan forwards at the blue line. They created turnovers which quickly became odd-man rushes on the other end.
Senior forward David Rohlfs came the closest to capitalizing on these chances when he rang a shot off the post five minutes into the game. Defenseman Jack Johnson also struck iron midway through the third on another short-handed rush for Michigan.
“I like to think of the posts as an extension of my equipment, hopefully they don’t really have anything else to shoot at” Brown said.
The near miss brought all 16,481 fans to their feet as most thought the Wolverines had reclaimed the lead with Johnson’s blast.
Notre Dame tied the score at 1-1 with four minutes remaining in the second period on Erik Condra’s 15th goal of the year. Freshman Kevin Deeth started the play behind the net and shoveled a pass into the slot. The puck redirected off Michigan center T.J. Hensick’s skate to Condra, who was waiting in front of the half- empty net.
The Irish dominated most of the second period, outshooting the Wolverines 15-7 as their physical play began to wear down the faster Michigan club. Notre Dame’s superior conditioning and discipline continued to show itself in the third period.
“Throughout the year we’ve given up goals and been down, but it seems like every time we come back,” Condra said. “[Irish coach Jeff Jackson] keeps us calm on the bench, you can’t get too high or too low.”
Jackson’s team controlled the pace of the game throughout the remainder of the contest until the final Michigan spurt.
The victory was Jackson’s fifth conference title in his eight years behind a CCHA bench. He won the first four while coaching Lake Superior State in the early ’90s. The two weekend victories brought Jackson’s CCHA career playoff record to an unprecedented 28-4, two of those losses coming in previous title matches.