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Irish to face New Hampshire with Frozen Four trip on the line

Sam Werner | Sunday, March 27, 2011

MANCHESTER, N.H. — The Irish take the ice tonight in Manchester one win away from the program’s second-ever Frozen Four appearance, but they will be facing a New Hampshire team that defeated No. 1-seeded Miami (Ohio) in impressive fashion Saturday and will be enjoying the benefits of playing just under 40 miles from their campus.

The Wildcats have advanced to college hockey’s biggest stage seven times in the programs storied history, but they have never won a national championship and have not been to the Frozen Four since 2003. The Irish last made it there in 2008, when they lost in the national championship game to Boston College.

New Hampshire averages 3.42 goals per game, and is led on offense by seniors Paul Thompson (28 goals, 24 assists), Mike Sislo (14 goals, 33 assists) and Phil DeSimone (10 goals, 31 assists).

“They’re always an exceptional transition team,” Irish coach Jeff Jackson said. “[They’re] highly skilled, [with a] good transition from defense to offense.”

Sislo scored the game-winner in the third period of New Hampshire’s 3-1 win over the RedHawks Saturday to move his team into the second round. Despite being the heavy underdogs, the Wildcats dictated tempo and had several chances to pad their lead before an empty-net goal sealed the deal.

Jackson said he was impressed with New Hampshire’s win — especially after how well Miami played in the CCHA Championship in Detroit last weekend.

“The fact that they beat Miami after what I saw last weekend is an incredible feat,” he said. “They’re obviously a pretty darn good hockey team to be able to do that, and I thought their goaltender [junior Matt Di Girolamo] was a big part of that tonight as well.”

Di Girolamo made 21 saves against the RedHawks, and sports a 2.45 goals-against average and .922 save percentage on the season.

Freshman left wing Anders Lee was the hero for Notre Dame Saturday against Merrimack, with his game-winner 5:18 into overtime, but senior Calle Ridderwall and junior Billy Maday also lit the lamp for the Irish. Sophomore netminder Mike Johnson played a big role as well, stopping 32 Warrior shots and withstanding an all-out barrage of Merrimack offense early in the overtime period, including one shot that knocked his helmet clean off.

“If it wasn’t for Mike Johnson in the overtime we wouldn’t be sitting here right now [moving on to the next round],” Jackson said.

The Irish and Wildcats will drop the puck at 8 p.m. tonight with a spot in the Frozen Four on the line.