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Hockey: Irish score five straight goals to beat Michigan and win CCHA crown

Matt Gamber | Monday, March 23, 2009

DETROIT – Notre Dame needed to do something it hadn’t done all season to accomplish a goal the Irish have had in their sights since October, and coach Jeff Jackson’s squad came through.

No. 1 Notre Dame (31-5-3) overcame its first 2-0 deficit of the season with five unanswered goals to beat No. 3 Michigan 5-2 and capture the program’s second CCHA tournament championship in three years.

Goals from sophomore forwards Calle Ridderwall and Ben Ryan in a 50-second span in the third period’s first two minutes started the Irish onslaught that turned a 2-1 lead into a 3-2 deficit for the Wolverines (29-11-0), the conference’s No. 2 seed.

“That’s why you play 60 minutes,” Jackson said. “It was just a matter of being patient enough to generate some scoring chances. Once we caught a break, it turned the tide for us.”

The victory secured Notre Dame, which also won the conference’s regular season championship, the top seed in the NCAA Tournament’s Midwest Regional. The Irish will travel to Grand Rapids, Mich., to play Bemidji State at 7 p.m. on Saturday to open the 16-team competition.

The winner of that game would play the Northeastern-Cornell winner on Sunday night to advance to the Frozen Four on April 10-12 in Washington, D.C. Notre Dame, as a No. 4 seed and the last team invited to the tournament a year ago, advanced all the way to the national title game before falling to Boston College.

The Wolverines dominated the game until the midway point, scoring twice on Irish senior goaltender Jordan Pearce – who hadn’t given up multiple goals in a game since Feb. 20 – and keeping the high-powered Notre Dame attack from generating much in the way of scoring chances.

But when freshman wing Billy Maday redirected a shot from junior linemate Kevin Deeth past Michigan goaltender Bryan Hogan on a four-on-four, the Irish trailed just 2-1 with nearly 30 minutes to play.

“You keep reminding them, and sometimes it’s just the emotion of getting that first goal. All of a sudden things change, and everyone starts getting hungrier,” Jackson said. “Remaining patient was the key to the game.”

With less than two minutes elapsed in the third period, Ridderwall tied the game, just after the Wolverines had killed an Irish power play, by deflecting a Brett Blatchford shot past Hogan. Ryan struck 50 seconds later, notching the game winner for the second straight night after taking a pass from junior Ryan Thang for an open wrist shot from in close.

“That was a tough game for Hogie,” Wolverines coach Red Berenson said of his freshman netminder, who did stop 29 shots. “It’s a goalie’s nightmare. The puck was going in too easily.”

Not for Michigan, though. Pearce was tested by several Michigan flurries until the Irish doubled with Ridderwall’s second goal of the night with just under nine minutes to play.

Off a pass from Maday, Ridderwall beat a Michigan defender and put a backhander on Hogan from the right side. Hogan looked to have it stopped initially, but Ridderwall poked his own rebound home from a 4-2 Irish lead.

Junior forward Christiaan Minella closed the scoring with three minutes to play. After senior center Christian Hanson, off a pass from sophomore defenseman Ian Cole, drew the Michigan defense to him on the blue line, he centered it to Minella, who had a clean wrister from between the circles.

Pearce, who was named the tournament MVP, took care of the rest, as the CCHA Scholar-Athlete of the Year made 28 saves, including several big ones to keep the game close before the Irish got themselves on the board.

Ridderwall, Ryan and Cole joined Pearce on the all-tournament team.

To advance to Saturday’s championship game, the Irish first had to top No. 6 seed Northern Michigan on Friday afternoon, topping the Wildcats 2-1.