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Hockey: ND earns NCAA bid despite losses

Matt Gamber | Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Rarely is a team that has just lost consecutive one-goal games in its conference tournament as relieved the morning after as the No. 11 Irish (24-15-4) were on Sunday.

After losing an overtime heartbreaker to No. 3 Miami (Ohio) 2-1 on Friday and giving up a pair of third-period goals in a 2-1 loss to Northern Michigan in an emotion-less third-place game the next night, Notre Dame’s NCAA Tournament hopes were very much in doubt, especially after the team entered the weekend in Detroit with the expectation that it had to win at least once to guarantee itself a berth.

And yet, when the pairings were announced Sunday morning, there the Irish were – yelling, cheering, but most of all, breathing a gigantic, collective sigh of relief that its dismal record in the season’s second half had not ultimately cost them a chance to get back to the Tournament.

“It was a great feeling,” junior left wing Garrett Regan said. “It’s what you work for all year, and that was definitely one of our objectives to make the NCAA Tournament. We made it there, and now we have a chance to win a championship, so we’ve got to make the best out of our opportunity.”

Notre Dame, the No. 4-seed, will face New Hampshire, the top seed in the West regional, on Friday afternoon in Colorado Springs, Colo., with the opportunity to take on the winner of Friday’s Colorado College-Michigan State match-up.

Though the Irish will certainly be the underdog, they believe they can make up for their poor second-half showing by pulling off the upset Friday.

“We’ve got to realize how lucky we are [to still be playing]. Only 16 teams get this opportunity every year, so you can’t pass up one chance,” senior captain Mark Van Guilder said. “The thing is, it doesn’t really matter what we did last weekend, it doesn’t matter what we did in the first half or second half – it’s one game. It’s one and done or one and move on. … We have to put all our eggs in one basket and just go for it, because anything can happen here.”

RedHawks 2, Irish 1 (OT)

In a loss coach Jeff Jackson could only describe as “devastating”, the Irish held a high-powered Miami attack scoreless until Mitch Ganzak beat Notre Dame goalie Jordan Pearce – who was otherwise sensational with 28 saves – stick-side through traffic with 3.4 seconds remaining in regulation.

“The positives are that we executed exactly what we wanted to,” Van Guilder said. “We weathered the storm in the first period, and Pearce was awesome. We frustrated them, and that was our goal going into the game, and then just waiting for our chances. Unfortunately, we got a couple tough breaks there, and the negative is that we weren’t able to close it out with a one-goal lead in the third period.”

Senior forward Evan Rankin put Notre Dame on the board with just 4:30 to play in the game with a backhander from the slot. That goal came just two minutes after Van Guilder’s power-play goal was called off when the officials ruled that it never crossed the goal line.

Miami defenseman Alec Martinez won it for the RedHawks when he fired a shot by Pearce from the left point, deflating Notre Dame’s hopes of returning to Saturday’s title game.

“We showed that we can play with anybody,” Jackson said. “We were on our heels a little bit early in the game … but as the game went on, we got better and better. In the third period, we controlled the tempo of the game, and I think Miami’s as good a team as there is in the country, so we should have a lot of confidence because we’re getting closer to finishing it off. Hopefully this makes us stronger in the long run.”

Wildcats 2, Irish 1

For the first time all year, the Irish lost a game in which they led after two periods.

“I think we had a tough time getting over Friday still, and there wasn’t a lot of emotion – you could see it wasn’t as intense as Friday,” Van Guilder said. “That was our fault, we had a little trouble getting up for the game, but we didn’t know the [NCAA Tournament] situation. We were just trying to win.”

Christian Hanson scored the lone Notre Dame goal midway through the second period, but Northern Michigan’s Tim Hartung and Matt Siddall each scored goals in the first four minutes of the third to bury the Irish.