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Hockey: Broncos shatter title hopes

Sam Gans and Sam Werner | Monday, February 28, 2011

After a gutty 3-2 win at Western Michigan Friday, the Irish were just one win away from a CCHA regular season title, an unexpected result for a season that began with so many question marks. It wasn’t to be, though, as Notre Dame fell 2-0 to the Broncos at home Saturday on Senior Night.

With Michigan’s sweep of Northern Michigan over the weekend, the Wolverines passed the Irish to claim the conference regular season title by just two points.

The Irish erased a 2-1 third-period deficit Friday to pick up their first win at Lawson Ice Arena since 2007. Freshman Anders Lee scored two goals, including the game-winner and sophomore goalie Mike Johnson stopped 16 of 18 Bronco shots to pick up his 16th win of the season.

Notre Dame got on the board quickly against the Broncos, jumping out to a 1-0 lead just 1:31 into the game. Junior defenseman Sean Lorenz ripped a shot from the high slot and Lee battled down low to deflect the puck past Western Michigan goalie Jerry Kuhn.

Western Michigan’s Max Campbell tied it up at 10:09 of the first. After winning the puck in a tie up with Irish senior defenseman Joe Lavin at the Notre Dame blueline, Campbell generated a 3-on-1 break and fired a wrist shot past Johnson.

Campbell scored again to put the Broncos up 2-1 at 14:40 mark in the second period. Johnson was unable to corral the puck in the crease, and it popped out to Campbell at the right edge of the goal. With Johnson out of position, Campbell coolly lifted the puck into the net.

Despite being down, Irish sophomore Billy Maday said the team didn’t lose focus.

“I think we were for the most part pretty calm,” Maday said. “We’ve been down before throughout the season, had some pretty significant comebacks. I think our experience in that department helped with our composure, and I think we were still confident on the bench that somebody would step up.”

At 4:07 of the third period, Irish freshman Jeff Costello made a nice individual play down the right side of the ice, shifted the puck to his forehand, and fired the puck over Kuhn’s shoulder to even the game at 2.

“We’ve shown that we can come back this season two or three times, and it was just a matter of being patient and not trying to force the issue,” Irish coach Jeff Jackson said.

With just over six minutes left in the game, Western Michigan’s Matt Tennyson was sent to the box for high sticking. With time ticking down on the power play, Maday fired a shot into a crowd in front of the net. The puck deflected off Lee’s skate and into the net. The officials reviewed the play, but ruled that Lee did not kick the puck and the Irish took a 3-2 lead with 4:57 left in the game.

Maday said the Irish knew they had to take advantage of their chance on the power play.

“I think we went out with the mentality that we were just going to shoot pucks and get a goal any way we could, so that was kind of my philosophy there,” he said. “I looked up, saw Anders was tied up with a guy in front, figured he’s probably going to win more battles than not with his big frame, so luckily it went off his skate and we got a goal out of it.”

Jackson said Lee was effective at using his body to create chances down low.

“One of the biggest things about being in that position is having no fear,” Jackson said. “You’ve got to be smart to get good body position, but you can’t have any fear because you’re going to get hit there.”

From there the Irish held off Western Michigan’s attack to claim a 3-2 win and move within a game of the CCHA regular season crown.

A championship wasn’t in the cards, though. A slow start for Notre Dame and a stagnant offense spelled doom for the Irish, leading to a 2-0 loss to Western Michigan on Saturday, snapping an eight game unbeaten streak.

The Irish tried to rally late, but could not muster any goals against the Broncos. The loss, combined with Michigan’s 5-0 win over Northern Michigan, allowed the Wolverines to leapfrog the Irish for the CCHA crown.

Irish freshman goalie Steven Summerhays, replacing Friday’s starter sophomore Mike Johnson, kept the Irish in the contest early with a flurry of saves on two Western Michigan power plays during the first nine minutes.

But the Broncos took the lead with 10:09 left in the period, after Ian Slater stole the puck behind the Irish net and slipped it past Summerhays. Less than two minutes later, Trevor Elias put the Broncos up 2-0 after winning a race to the puck in the offensive zone and beating Summerhays top shelf.

The Irish’s woes continued as the period progressed, when junior right wing Billy Maday was assessed a five-minute major penalty and a game misconduct for checking from behind. The ejection forced Irish coach Jeff Jackson to adjust his lines and Notre Dame was outshot 15-6 after the first twenty minutes.

“It’s tough to get down 2-0 early in the game,” Irish senior left wing Calle Ridderwall said. “When everyone starts feeling you’re down a little bit, you start [attempting to make plays] that maybe aren’t there.”

The slow start prompted Jackson to put in Johnson for the second and third periods, in an attempt to spark some life into his team.

“I thought [Summerhays] held us in there,” Jackson said. “The score could have potentially been 4-0. The coaches sometimes make goalie changes to change the focus of their team. It had nothing to do with his performance.”

The Irish appeared to score three minutes into the second period, but the goal was waved off after officials ruled freshman center Anders Lee batted the puck into the goal with a high stick. With less than two minutes in the period, the Irish seemed to score again, but the officials denied the goal once more, blowing the whistle before the puck crossed the line.

“I don’t have the same view [as the officials],” Jackson said. “I can’t see from the overhead perspective. There were so many conferences going on the ice, I don’t think anybody knew.”

With 30 seconds left in the game, a likely Irish goal was prevented when a WMU defenseman knocked the net out of position just before the puck went in. The Irish were awarded a penalty shot, but freshman center T.J. Tynan was denied by Jerry Kuhn, effectively ending any chance at a comeback.

Though the Irish could not win the regular season conference championship, Jackson said the team was still looking forward to the CCHA Tournament and potentially the NCAA Tournament.

“I felt bad for our guys tonight,” Jackson said. “This senior class deserved to finish [the regular season] on a positive note, but as I told them, this is a three-legged race, and we’re just through the first leg and we did pretty well.”