Sweep secures CCHA title
Sam Werner | Monday, February 23, 2009
One championship down, two more to go.
Notre Dame clinched the CCHA regular season title this weekend in a sweep of Nebraska-Omaha, winning 4-3 in overtime Friday night and 1-0 Saturday night. The Irish still hope to earn CCHA tournament championship and NCAA championship banners to fly alongside their regular season crown.
“It’s probably the championship that gets the least amount of attention,” Irish coach Jeff Jackson said. “But in some ways it’s got the most depth to it just because it’s based on the entire season. It’s kind of a reward for consistency.”
Friday night, freshman Billy Maday’s goal with 1:21 left in overtime gave the Irish the win in a game they once led 3-1.
Christiaan Minella got Notre Dame on the board just 3:03 into the game, redirecting a Christian Hanson shot from the top of the left circle past Maverick goalie Jeremie DuPont. After Jeric Agosto tied the game at one 39 seconds into the second period, Hanson added a goal of his own.
At 4:32 in the second period, the senior center, playing in his first game back after suffering a concussion against Ohio State on Feb. 13, fired a low wrist shot through DuPont’s legs for his team-high 15th goal of the season.
Despite the two points on Friday, Jackson said he thought Hanson played better in the second game of the series.
“I thought he was actually better Saturday night. This time of year you can’t just take 10 days off and get back into the heat of battle just like that,” Jackson said. “I thought he was not as solid in his own end with the defensive pace Omaha threw at us, and he wasn’t quite as good as he normally is on faceoffs either.”
Maday added a goal to make the score 3-1, but the Mavericks stormed right back. Just over a minute after Maday’s goal, Matt Ambroz swatted a rebound past Irish netminder Jordan Pearce to cut the lead in half at 16:38 of the second stanza. Then, 8:10 into the third period, Nick Fanto tied the game up for Nebraska-Omaha, redirecting a shot past Pearce for the only goal of the period.
The game seemed like a carbon copy of the Feb. 13 game against Northern Michigan, when Notre Dame took a 4-2 lead before the Wildcats tied the game. Jackson said he was concerned with his team’s developing habit of letting opponents back into games.
“We’re allowing teams to get back into games because of the way we’re playing with the puck, in my estimation,” he said. “And I am concerned with that.”
The game went into overtime and almost seemed destined for a shootout until Maday took a feed from Kevin Deeth at the bottom of the right circle and fired the puck past DuPont for the win.
The Irish victory, combined with a Miami (OH) loss to Northern Michigan, meant that Notre Dame needed only a tie Saturday night to wrap up the CCHA top spot.
The Irish got even more Saturday, thanks to stellar defensive play and stalwart goaltending from Pearce.
The senior made 17 saves in his fifth shutout of the season, including two key stops in the first and third periods on Maverick odd-man rushes.
“I thought he played a really good game for us,” Jackson said. “He looked like he had that confidence where nothing was going in.”
The Irish needed every one of Pearce’s saves, as the game went through two periods deadlocked at zero. Junior Dan Kissel provided the offense for the game 6:31 into the final period. Skating down the left side of the ice, Kissel took a feed from Erik Condra and pushed the puck into the net for the game-winner.
With three minutes left, the Mavericks appeared to have tied the score, but a penalty called on John Kemp negated the goal and maintained the Irish lead.
Jackson said the experience in close games would be invaluable to his team come playoff time.
“We’ve played in a lot of games like that this year,” he said. “We’ve played in quite a few one-goal games this year and our kids have handled it pretty well. All these games are important for getting ready for the playoffs.”
After next weekend’s home-and-home series against Michigan State, the Irish have a first-round bye before hosting a second-round CCHA playoff series. Jackson said that, for now, his team is focusing only on that series.
“We have to worry about getting to the finals first,” he said. “Our objective right now is to get to Detroit [for the CCHA Championship], nothing more.”