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Hockey Analysis: Semifinal win sums up Notre Dame season

Kyle Cassily | Friday, April 11, 2008

DENVER – Hot, then cold. Productive, then fallow.

And then explosive.

It’s the story of the 2007-08 Notre Dame hockey team and in fitting fashion, it was the story of the national semifinal, capped by freshman Calle Ridderwall’s patient, peek-a-boo shot that found twine to give the Irish the 5-4 upset win in overtime over Michigan.

Notre Dame replicated the storyline of its season in one game, surging at the start before bottoming out in the middle, followed by a renaissance at the end.

“It was kind of a crazy game,” Irish coach Jeff Jackson said. “There was no time I felt comfortable in that game.”

The Irish poured three first-period goals on the Wolverines in imitation of its explosive first half of the year. Ridderwall and right wing Mark Van Guilder beat Michigan goalie Billy Sauer with goals separated by 42 seconds. Then, shorthanded and with under a minute left in the period, left wing Ryan Thang spooled the puck around Wolverines defenseman Steve Kampfer and backhanded it over Sauer’s shoulder while cutting in along the left goal line.

“We came out with the intensity we thought we needed, then they got that first goal by 22, or whatever the heck his name is, he played a good game,” Wolverines right wing Chad Kolarik said about the first period and Ridderwall.

Against the vaunted Wolverines, the No. 1 team in the country, the Irish rampaged to a 3-0 lead at the first buzzer and knocked Sauer out of the game. Months ago, against competition ranked in the top 10, the Irish romped to a 16-4 record by Christmas break, ending with a 9-0 run.

In both cases, the momentum would soon die – and fast.

Like the malaise that blanketed the Irish from January to March, the second period hit and it was all Notre Dame could do to hold onto the tail of a maize jersey flying past.

Wolverines forwards Kolarik and Matt Rust pounded back-to-back goals only 15 seconds apart to cut the lead to 3-2 and momentum fell away from the Irish. It seemed the Irish mid-winter funk had reincarnated mid-game.

The Irish couldn’t get chances on freshman goalie Bryan Hogan, who was put in only the sixth game of his career after Sauer was yanked. The shots that found the net were of poor caliber.

“[Hogan] played well, I give him credit. We just tried to get shots from anywhere on him,” Van Guilder said.

Then Kolarik struck again with a power-play goal two minutes into the third period to tie the game 3-3. It seemed the Irish were doomed to repeat the mistakes of the second half of the season, where they slid into the NCAA Tournament scoring only 43 goals in their last 24 games.

The forecheck had disappeared, the cycle was nonexistent and goals were a first-period memory.

“We knew [the Irish] were going to come out the way they did,” Michigan center Kevin Porter said. “We needed to regroup after the second, and that’s what we did. I thought we played well the rest of the game.”

But by the middle of the third period, the Irish found their mojo again, peppering Hogan with his first serious threats of the game and eventually one from Kevin Deeth went in for the 4-3 lead. A fortunate carom for Michigan with five minutes left in the third period tied the game at 4-4 to send it to overtime, but Notre Dame was back.

Just like when they bounced back from a terrible second half of the season to power their way through the West regional two weeks ago, the Irish started to hammer Michigan like they did in the first period.

Forwards crashed their rebounds in overtime and the forecheck frustrated and prevented the Wolverines from breaking the puck out of their zone.

It only took five minutes for Ridderwall to pick his spot off a Dan VeNard rebound, and a few more seconds for the Irish to pile on top of Ridderwall at center ice.

“It didn’t faze [the Irish],” Jackson said. “You always wait for momentum to change in situations like tonight’s game, and our guys handled it with calm and cool and that at least allowed us to continue to play on.”

And now Notre Dame is playing on to the national championship.