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Hockey: Squad splits weekend series with Nanooks

Sam Werner | Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Notre Dame returned to action at the Joyce Center this weekend, splitting a two-game series with Alaska.

Playing in their first home game since Dec. 29, the Irish (15-8-3, 12-5-1-1 CCHA) defeated the Nanooks (10-8-4, 7-7-4-2 CCHA) 2-1 Friday night before falling 4-1 in the rematch Saturday.

Sophomore goaltender Mike Johnson was the star of Friday night’s win, stopping 34 of 35 Alaska shots and holding the Nanooks scoreless for the first 59:37 of the game.

“It’s unfortunate that he didn’t get the shutout because I thought he deserved it,” Irish coach Jeff Jackson said. “He made the difference tonight.”

The Irish got on the board first with a shorthanded goal from freshman Anders Lee. On a two-on-one break with senior linemate Ryan Guentzel, Lee took a nice feed in the high slot and fired a writer that beat Alaska goalie Scott Greenham stick side at 15:16 of the second period. The shorthanded goal was Notre Dame’s CCHA-leading 12th of the season.

“We’ve been fortunate enough to score some crazy shorthanded goals,” Guentzel said. “We obviously can’t complain, but it’s kind of unspeakable that we already have 12 this year.”

Sophomore Nick Larson doubled Notre Dame’s lead at 18:45 of the final period. Larson got the puck on his stick at the right side of the Alaska goalmouth and patiently outwaited Greenham before putting the puck in the back of the net.

At that point, it looked like Johnson was in line for this first shutout of the season.

“I mean I know how much time’s on [the scoreboard],” Johnson said “I wouldn’t say I’m counting down the seconds because that’s how it can get really long.”

With an extra attacker on the ice, Alaska’s Aaron Gens took a feed from behind the net and floated the puck over Johnson.

The Nanooks were unable to tie the game, though, and the Irish skated off the ice with their ninth home win of the season. Guentzel said the tough win would prepare the team well as they ready for the stretch run.

“In the playoffs, it doesn’t matter how as long as you get it,” Guentzel said. “We’re used to scoring a lot of goals, but when you can win a game 2-1, it’s also a lot of confidence down the stretch.”

In the second game, though, the Nanooks jumped out to a 2-0 first-period lead behind goals from Scott Enders and Jarret Greenberg. The second goal came on the power play after the Irish had taken a bench minor for too many men on the ice — the first of two times that would happen on the night. Jackson said the mental lapses were unacceptable, but that he also would shoulder the blame.

“I honestly don’t think that I had these guys prepared to play this team,” he said. “I’ll take responsibility for it. I think that they [Alaska] put a lot more pressure and played a lot more physical than I prepared them for.”

Freshman Mike Voran cut the lead to 2-1 at 8:56 of the second period when he corralled a rebound at the left edge of the crease, settled the puck, and coolly slid it past Greenham for his fourth goal of the season.

The Nanooks extended their lead to 3-1 early in the third period with a goal from Carlo Finucci.

Notre Dame went without a power play on the night until 14:41 of the final stanza when Alaska’s Joe Sova was given a five-minute major and a game misconduct for contact to the head. Instead of the Irish taking advantage of the man advantage, though, it was the Nanooks who scored a shorthanded goal one minute into the penalty. The 4-1 deficit was too much to overcome, and the Irish were forced to settle with a split in the series.

“We have to move on, but we’ve got to get better,” Jackson said. “This team has shown signs of being extremely good, but we’ve also shown signs of weakness and we’ve got to get better.”

The Irish still sit in first place in the CCHA standings, one point ahead of rival Michigan, though the Wolverines have a game in hand on Notre Dame. The Irish return to action next weekend with a pair of games against Ohio State in Columbus, Ohio.

Note:

Senior left wing Calle Ridderwall missed both games with a lower body injury. Tuesday, Jackson said Ridderwall’s status for this weekend’s games was unclear and his status was “day-to-day”