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Hockey: Team advances in CCHA

Matt Gamber | Tuesday, March 17, 2009

And the Irish just keep rolling.

Senior goaltender Jordan Pearce and No. 2 Notre Dame shut out Nebraska-Omaha on consecutive nights at the Joyce Center to advance to the CCHA tournament’s semifinals for the third straight time.

“That’s been one of our objectives all year,” Irish coach Jeff Jackson said. “To get to Detroit is a big accomplishment for this team. We had a good season, but the real hockey starts now.”

Notre Dame (29-5-3, 21-4-3-3 CCHA) earned the tournament’s top seed by winning the regular season title, and the Irish continued their dominance over CCHA competition during a 5-0 rout Friday that included four first-period goals. The No. 8-seeded Mavericks (15-17-8, 8-13-7-3) played Notre Dame close on Saturday but fell 1-0 as the Irish swept the best-of-three series and earned the right to play Northern Michigan in Friday’s 4:35 p.m. semifinal at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.

“We played a tough team,” Jackson said. “I thought in the second two periods [Friday night] and all three periods tonight it was an even hockey game. We really only handled them in one period out of six. I think that they deserve a lot of credit for the way they competed here.”

The Irish buried the Mavericks in the first period Friday. Sophomore left wing Calle Ridderwall’s unassisted goal just two minutes in proved to be the game-winner.

Sophomore center Ben Ryan made it 2-0 five minutes after Ridderwall’s tally on a power play goal off assists from senior captain Erik Condra and sophomore defenseman Ian Cole.

With just over four minutes to go in the period, freshman right wing Billy Maday scored his 15th goal of the season off a brilliant pass from junior defenseman Kyle Lawson, Junior right wing Ryan Thang, fresh off a right ankle injury that had kept him out since Feb. 6, gave the Irish a 4-0 edge two minutes later with a quick wrist shot from the left circle.

“Our guys were flying in the first period,” Jackson said. “That’s as good a period as maybe we’ve played all season long. We were buzzing.”

The Mavericks pulled starting goalie Jerad Kaufmann in favor of Jeremie Dupont to start the second frame, but that wouldn’t help them get past Pearce, who was flawless in making 30 saves. Sophomore right wing Ryan Guentzel capped the scoring late in the third period by putting home his own rebound.

Pearce stole the show again on Saturday, when senior center Justin White’s goal 2:30 into the game proved to be the difference. Kaufmann left his net to try and play a puck out of the Nebraska-Omaha zone, but junior left wing Dan Kissel got to it and centered it to White, who flicked it into the still-vacated cage.

“It’s been our bread and butter a lot this season, these fast starts,” White said. “We try to prepare as well as we can, so anytime we can get that first one, it’s big for us.”

For the second straight night, Pearce made 30 saves and recorded a shutout, his school-record and NCAA-leading eighth of the season and the 12th of his career, which ties him with 2007 grad David Brown. Pearce also leads the country in wins with 28, and Saturday night’s victory was the 57th of his career – another new Irish record.

“It’s a great honor,” Pearce said. “I’m sure the way this program is going, it’s going to be broken by the next goalie that comes through. At least I have it for now, and it’s nice to have.”

Some of Pearce’s shutouts this year have been the products of Notre Dame’s stifling defense and its domination of opponents, but Saturday, Pearce had to make spectacular save after spectacular save not just to keep his shutout intact, but to send the Irish on their way to Detroit.

The Mavericks had several chances on rebounds, but Pearce stopped every one – even as sticks were flying and players from both teams were colliding into him. He made saves with his glove, blocker, stick and even his skate on one wrap-around opportunity in the third period.

“Tonight he just looked like he wasn’t going to give up a goal,” Jackson said. “He had that look about him and that confidence like there was nothing getting by him tonight.”


-Northern Michigan (18-16-5, 11-12-5-3), the No. 6 seed, beat host Miami (Ohio) on consecutive nights to advance to this weekend’s CCHA semifinals. After the third-seeded RedHawks (20-12-5, 17-7-4-2) won Friday’s opener 3-2, the Wildcats earned a 3-2 overtime win Saturday before winning the series with a 3-1 victory Sunday.

-The second CCHA semifinal will feature Michigan, the No. 2 seed, and Alaska, the No. 4 seed, in an 8:05 p.m. matchup. The Wolverines (28-10-0, 20-8-0-0), the nation’s No. 3 team, swept Western Michigan 5-2, 6-1, while the Nanooks needed three games to dispose of Ohio State. First-team all-conference goaltender Chad Johnson made a season-high 43 saves in Alaska’s 1-0 series-clinching victory Sunday.

-The winners of Friday’s two semifinals will play in the CCHA Championship at 7:35 p.m. Saturday at Joe Louis Arena. The losers of Friday’s contests will play at 3:35 p.m. to determine the tournament’s third-place team. Last year, Notre Dame lost to Miami (Ohio) in its semifinal before falling to Northern Michigan in the consolation game.