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Hockey: Wind at their backs

Kyle Cassily | Friday, October 19, 2007

Notre Dame was a whirlwind on the ice in the second period, bombarding Denver with shots and making the Pioneers dizzy with dazzling puck control in the offensive zone – and then an actual whirlwind intervened.

The No. 11 Irish (2-1) weathered a 12-minute delay after the second period Thursday when a tornado warning prompted an evacuation of the Joyce Center. The stadium eventually refilled, and the Irish held on in the third to defeat No. 5 Denver 4-3.

The interruption failed to slow down Notre Dame, which spent the first period chasing the Pioneers (2-1), but exploded with a dominant second to take the permanent lead.

“I’ve had a few games where I wish there was a tornado,” Irish coach Jeff Jackson joked after the game. “I was concerned, we had some momentum going into the third period.”

Irish goalie Jordan Pearce stopped 17 Denver shots, and left wing Garrett Regan tallied one goal on a team-high seven shots while adding an assist in the win on the night that Notre Dame’s 2007 CCHA playoff championship banner was unfurled.

Irish defenseman Kyle Lawson ripped a shot from the center of the point that squeaked through Denver goalie Peter Mannino’s pads 12:27 into the second period to tie the game at 2-2. The goal was the culmination of 10 minutes in which Notre Dame looked nothing like the team that fell to a 2-1 deficit after the first period. The Irish hammered chance after chance at Mannino (14 saves), until they capitalized on Lawson’s power-play goal – one of three power-play scores on the night.

“I was surprised that we came out that flat [in the first period]. They were all over us for awhile,” Irish right wing Ben Ryan said. “I think leadership had a lot to do with it. We settled down.”

Notre Dame left wing Ryan Thang sniped a shot over Mannino’s glove from traffic in the slot to put the Irish up 3-2 with 2:12 left in the second. Pearce backed up the effort a minute later with a breakaway save on Denver left wing Jesse Martin.

“A year ago at this time I was throwing water bottles,” Jackson said about how he fires up his team between periods. “This right now is a matter of me trying to be a little more patient because we have a lot of young guys.”

The Irish penalty kill successfully smothered seven man-down situations, including one that resulted from an interference call on Ryan with just under six minutes left. The Pioneers were pinned to the boards on their advantage chances and couldn’t exploit their three power plays in the third period.

Jackson credited Irish associate head coach Paul Pooley for the success.

“It’s a matter of having the right personnel, but tonight’s just one night,” Jackson said.

The Pioneers and Irish swapped goals in the third period when the pendulum swung to a rest between the teams and play evened out. Ryan scored the first goal of his career when he stuffed the puck inside the left post 7:23 into the third for a 4-2 lead. Denver answered 32 seconds later when right wing Brock Trotter picked up a rebound of Pearce and cut Notre Dame’s lead to 4-3. The Irish killed off two more power plays before getting the win.

“We might have just came back out after the first period and just maybe thought it was going to be a lot easier than it was,” Trotter said. “They showed that they’re a really good hockey team, and we can’t let up the way we did.”

The Pioneers scored first 1:42 into the first period when center Kyle Ostrow beat Pearce glove side on a shot from the left circle for the 1-0 lead. After Ostrow’s goal, Denver possessed the puck in the Irish zone and neutralized the trap Notre Dame attempted.

The Irish broke through on a power-play goal by Regan with 1:50 left in the first. Lawson let loose a low shot from the point that Regan redirected into the net to tie the game at 1-1. The Pioneers scored 55 seconds later when the puck bounced off a Notre Dame player’s skate into the net to put the Irish down 2-1 at the end of the first.

Notre Dame and Denver square off tonight at 7:30 in the Joyce for the final game of the series.