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Hockey: Housewarming party

Sam Gans | Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Notre Dame’s debut in the brand-new Compton Family Ice Arena was rocking — both in the crowd and on the ice — as the Irish earned a 5-2 victory over RPI in the first game played at the state-of-the-art facility, with sophomore forward Anders Lee notching a hat-trick in the process.

The sellout crowd of 5,022 — the largest number of people to ever watch a hockey game at Notre Dame — was lively before the contest even began. The Irish (3-2-0) sent the arena into pandemonium early against the Engineers (1-4-0) as Lee scored the first goal in the new building 9:21 into the game.

The play was set up when junior defenseman Sam Calabrese corralled the puck near the blue line and sent it low down the boards. Following two impressive passes by fellow sophomore forwards T.J. Tynan and Bryan Rust, Lee found himself alone with the puck at the top of the crease and easily slotted it past RPI junior goaltender Bryce Merriam.

“That first play, T.J. and Bryan, they set that play up,” Lee said. “Once again my success tonight was based on my teammates. We all worked hard and we all played well tonight.”

RPI quickly answered the Irish, however, when Irish junior goaltender Mike Johnson lost sight of the puck behind his own goal and Engineer senior center Joel Malchuk wrapped the puck into the net at the 13:25 mark.

The first 20 minutes ended with the score knotted at one goal apiece and RPI holding a 7-6 advantage in shots. But the Irish took control in the second period.

Lee added his second goal of the game to put Notre Dame up 2-1 just 1:09 into the period with a simple wrist shot from the left faceoff circle that managed to elude Merriam. Tynan and Calabrese added assists on the play.

The Irish continued the attack throughout the period and ultimately pushed the margin to two with 5:23 remaining. Senior defenseman and co-captain Sean Lorenz released a shot from in between the top of the faceoff circles, just before getting checked, which sailed off the post and into the net. The Irish outshot the Engineers 14-2 in the middle stanza and entered the final 20 minutes up 3-1.

Irish coach Jeff Jackson said the increased noise in the new arena helped spur the Irish.

“I thought that the crowd helped motivate the guys when they started a little bit on a roll in the second period,” Jackson said. “I thought the crowd got into the game, and that to me is really the most important thing about this building — creating that environment that’s like college hockey. And that was like college hockey.”

In the third period, junior center Riley Sheahan scored a power play goal on a one-timer off a pass from senior right wing and co-captain Billy Maday at the 1:39 mark.

Though RPI later made the score 4-2, Lee iced the game with an empty-net goal with 1:20 remaining to secure his hat-trick.

Jackson was full of praise for Lee following the game, but gave himself a little bit of credit for the sophomore’s hat-trick, as well.

“[Lee’s] a horse,” Jackson said. “He’s hard to control. He’s such a big strong, power-forward type of kid and he competes hard. He seems to be pretty good at the empty-net at the end of the game, too. He’s got a few of those. He has to thank me for putting him on the ice in those situations.”

Johnson, who finished with 15 saves, also impressed Jackson.

“I thought [Johnson] looked real confident,” Jackson said. “If he just goes in and plays that way where he’s not thinking about it, he could be one of the top goalies in the country. And he played that way tonight, I thought.”

Despite a number of helpful factors, including a boisterous crowd and strong play from Lee and Johnson, Jackson said simple puck possession was just as important to the outcome.

“I thought we were much better with the puck,” he said. “The only times we got in trouble were when we made bad plays with the puck. I thought we made good progress tonight, which is a starting point. We have to continue to get better at that, especially now that we’re on the road for four games. If we play loose with the puck we’re going to have real problems on the road.”

The Irish travel to Bowling Green to play the Falcons on Friday and Saturday. They will return home to compete in the Compton Family Ice Arena on Nov. 11 and 12 against Alaska.

Contact Sam Gans at