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Hockey: Squad moves into tie for fourth place in heated CCHA

Douglas Farmer | Monday, February 1, 2010

After an ugly 5-3 loss Friday night, Notre Dame regained its form with a 3-2 victory over Nebraska-Omaha Saturday. The weekend split allowed the Irish to move into a tie for fourth place in the CCHA.

“We played the way we have been playing in the second half,” Irish coach Jeff Jackson said after the win Saturday. “I thought we played with more urgency, and we were executing our system much better [than last night].”

After goals from junior Ben Ryan and freshman Kyle Palmieri put Notre Dame (12-11-7, 8-8-6-2 CCHA) ahead 2-1 Friday night, Nebraska-Omaha (13-12-5, 9-11-2-1) scored four unanswered goals before senior Brett Blatchford scored one more for the Irish with less than a minute left in the game. The defeat ended a stretch of two straight decisive Friday victories.

“I’m disappointed tonight because I thought we played especially well the last couple of Fridays,” Jackson said Friday. “Tonight I thought we were exceptionally flat. I’m going to take responsibility for it, because I did not feel that we were not as energized as we were the last few Fridays.”

Again bucking the trend of the last few weeks, the Irish were dominant on the second night of a two-game series for the first time since mid-December.

A four-on-three rush less than seven minutes into Saturday’s game put Notre Dame ahead to stay. Palmieri and junior Calle Ridderwall passed the puck back and forth on the break before Palmieri set Ridderwall up for a one-timer past the goalie.

“It’s always important to get the first goal, especially when you have been struggling with the goal scoring all season,” Ridderwall said. “So getting out to a good start is key for us. It helps us build off of that and get momentum for the rest of the period and a little of the second.”

The Irish did indeed have the momentum as freshman Nick Larson scored less than four minutes after Ridderwall and sophomore Sean Lorenz scored eight minutes into the second period.

Freshman goaltender Mike Johnson held the lead for Notre Dame late into the third period as he denied 32 of 34 shots on the night.

“There is no question, [Johnson] was the difference maker tonight,” Jackson said. “I don’t think he was that sharp [Friday], but he is capable of playing like that all the time, and I’ll tell you what, if he can ever learn to do it on a consistent basis, he’ll be one of the best in the country.”

The Irish needed Johnson’s best as six players were out to injury, and junior Ben Ryan was held out due to a coaches’ decision.

Nebraska-Omaha finally put a goal on the scoreboard with less than six minutes left in the game as Notre Dame’s lack of depth started to show. With an extra attacker, the Mavericks scored once more with only 26 seconds left in the contest.

“Our depth is an issue right now with guys being out,” Jackson said. “We only dressed 19, and it showed up a little bit in the end. I think fatigue was a factor in the last 10 minutes.”

The win, combined with results across the rest of the CCHA, moved the Irish into a tie with Lake Superior State for fourth in the conference with 32 points. With two teams tied for sixth and another two for eighth, the difference between fourth place and ninth place is currently only two points.

Notre Dame wore special game jerseys over the weekend to raise funds for the Wounded Warrior Project. All the jerseys were auctioned off over the previous week and the auctions tallied $16,604.60. Further donations, including a $10,000 contribution from Class of 1980 Irish hockey All-American Greg Meredith, brought in $25,000 for a total of $41,604.60.

Notre Dame assistant coach Andy Slaggert was named the recipient of the Terry Flanagan Award by the American Hockey Coaches Association Thursday. The award honors an assistant coach’s career body of work. Slaggert has been an assistant coach at Notre Dame for 17 seasons.