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2008 Men’s Division I Hockey National Championship: Irish drive to national title ended by Eagles, small but explosive winger

Ellyn Michalak | Monday, April 14, 2008

DENVER – After sitting in the losing locker room of the national championship game two years in a row, Boston College left wing Nathan Gerbe finally hoisted the trophy Saturday night when the Eagles beat Notre Dame 4-1 in the title game.

The fourth-seeded Irish (27-16-4) were unable to generate offense in their first-ever appearance in the national championship and gave up two power-play goals in front of 18,632 at the Pepsi Center. After going down 3-0 in the second period, Notre Dame cut the lead to 3-2 five minutes into the third period, only to have the second goal disallowed after video review.

The Irish, momentum lost, were unable to put anything else past Eagles freshman goalie John Muse (20 saves).

“[Boston College] did such a great job of keeping us from our cycle game and possessing the puck,” Irish defenseman Kyle Lawson said. “That’s kind of our bread and butter and when they neutralized that and got it into an up-tempo game, that’s when their speed took over.”

Gerbe, a 5-foot-5 junior, proved an unstoppable force, generating four points on the night and 11 points in the Tournament (7 goals, 4 assists). Gerbe scored Boston College’s first two goals of the night and assisted on his team’s final, back-breaking two goals.

Boston College was the national runner-up each of the last two seasons. Last year it lost 3-1 to Michigan State and fell 2-1 to Wisconsin in 2006.

It was Notre Dame’s first trip to the Frozen Four, let alone the title game. The Irish earned a shot at the title by defeating top-seeded Michigan 5-4 in overtime two days earlier.

“I thought [Boston College] had us on our heels early on with their speed and I was a little bit surprised that our team played a little too cautious,” Irish coach Jeff Jackson said. “[I was a] little disappointed in the fact that I thought our team could have made some plays, and we didn’t. First time being in this event, I think the advantage was theirs as far as the experience factor because our guys responded to that situation.”

After Boston College built a 3-0 lead – all in the second period – Notre Dame staged a comeback. Irish center Kevin Deeth placed the puck over Muse’s glove side off a pass from Lawson through the slot to the left side at 9:07 of the second.

The Irish appeared to cut the score to 3-2 at the 4:56 mark of the third period when Lawson caught defenseman Ian Cole’s crossover pass in his skates and the puck slowly slid across the goal line as Lawson sought unsuccessfully to tap it with his stick. The play was reviewed in the booth and the goal was recalled by video replay official Greg Shepherd.

“The puck was kicked in the net by the Notre Dame player’s right skate. The skate was moving toward the goal line,” Shepherd said. “There were sticks in the crease, and we needed to make sure there wasn’t a deflection off the sticks or the defender’s skates after it was kicked.”

Irish coach Jeff Jackson said the disallowed goal was the turning point in the game.

“I thought we had something going at that time and I thought we were doing a much better job with the puck,” he said. “I talked to our guys about showing some poise with the puck because I sensed a level of panic at times with the puck.”

Both teams had a tightly-matched first period, resulting in the fourth scoreless opening in a title game in NCAA history.

The Irish had three power play opportunities during the period, but couldn’t capitalize on the opportunities. Notre Dame had eight power play chances throughout the game, but couldn’t score, a problem that plagued the Irish for extended periods of time throughout the season.

“I think we had a couple of good looks, but you have to give credit to their penalty killers and their goalie made some big saves on the penalty kill,” senior captain Mark Van Guilder said. “I think that was the key to the game, their power play was effective and ours weren’t.”

The Eagles, however, were much more effective against Notre Dame’s penalty-kill unit, the second best in the nation. Boston College went 2-for-4 on power plays.

Gerbe broke the offensive silence in the second period with a goal at 2:23, beginning a 3-0 Eagles run.

From behind the Irish net, freshman center Brian Gibbons sent a backhand pass to Gerbe in the left circle, who shot the puck over junior goaltender Jordan Pearce’s left shoulder.

Gerbe struck again a little more than three minutes later after an interference penalty was called on Irish left wing Ryan Thang. Eagles right wing Ben Smith sent a crossover pass toward the goal. Ricocheting off the net, Gerbe crashed the rebound and scored, tapping the puck inside the near post and giving Boston College a 2-0 lead.

“I just try and do it with my grit and speed,” Gerbe said about how he makes up for his size. “You’ve got to use your strengths and not your weaknesses. Obviously I’m not big, so I’m not going to go plowing someone over, but I still finish checks and bug people out there.”

At the 8:11 of the second and working with a 4-on-3 man advantage, Gerbe sent a crossing pass to freshman forward Joe Whitney high in the slot, whose slap shot deflected off an Irish defenseman and past Pearce’s left side, giving the Eagles the 3-0 lead.

After Lawson’s goal in the third was overturned, Boston College answered with a goal less than a minute later.

Gerbe sent a blind pass to Smith inside the right circle, whose shot deflected off Irish defenseman Brock Sheahan and into the net for the 4-1 lead at 5:31 of the third.

“Gerbe and Ben Smith are just so good,” linemate Brian Gibbons said. “I’m so lucky to play with those guys as good as they are. I just try to stay out of their way.”

Despite several more offensive attacks, the Irish were unable to score for the remainder of the game.

Pearce made 19 save for the Irish, while Muse stopped 20 for the Eagles. Muse, a freshman who started every game for Boston College this season, allowed only two goals in the two games of the Frozen Four.

“[Muse] was awesome tonight. It’s pretty special for a freshman to do something like that,” Van Guilder said. “His team played awesome in front of him, and he made some big saves.”

The Irish will lose five seniors after this year – Van Guilder, Sheahan, Evan Rankin, Dan VeNard and Brian D’Arcy – who were the last class to play a season not under Jackson, when they played for former coach Dave Poulin as freshmen.

“Bottom line is that these kids gave us everything they could in the last couple weeks and I’m proud of them,” Jackson said.