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Hockey: Irish split series with champs

Jack Hefferon | Monday, October 10, 2011

Following just one exhibition match and a handful of practices, Notre Dame eased into its regular season schedule with a pair of games against the defending national champions in front of 6,000 hostile fans. After losing 4-3 to Minnesota-Duluth in the opener, the Irish (1-1) rallied to take a 5-3 win over the Bulldogs (1-1) on Saturday.

In Friday’s matchup, the Irish came out strong and grabbed an early lead when senior right winger Billy Maday one-timed a pass from sophomore left winger Jeff Costello into the back of the net. Notre Dame was then hamstrung by penalties and turnovers, and Minnesota-Duluth converted on two Irish giveaways to take a 2-1 lead.

“We turned the puck over a lot on Friday,” Irish coach Jeff Jackson said. “Maybe that was because of nervousness or the crowd, but we had some mistakes and they capitalized.”

Despite their initial rustiness, the Irish entered the third period tied 3-3 after a power-play goal from sophomore right winger Mike Voran. Notre Dame was unable to hold the lead though, as Bulldogs senior center Travis Oleksuk beat junior goaltender Mike Johnson for what proved to be the game-winning goal.

Despite making 27 saves in the game, including 14 in the second period, Johnson was lifted for Saturday’s game, and sophomore goalie Steven Summerhays got the second start of the weekend between the pipes.

“We went into the season knowing that we’d try to get both [Johnson and Summerhays] some games,” Jackson said. “So that was part of the plan. I thought they both played okay.”

Notre Dame got off to a slower start in the second game of the weekend, as Summerhays surrendered a couple of early goals and the Bulldogs jumped ahead 2-0. The Irish halved the lead on a second-period goal by junior left winger Nick Larson, but the team was ignited after sophomore center TJ Tynan evened the score with the third shorthanded goal of his career.

The shorthanded unit continued to dominate in the game, allowing the Bulldogs just one goal in 27 minutes of power-play time. Notre Dame then rattled off three unanswered goals, and held on through the third period for the series-splitting win.

“We’re still feeling our way through personnel on special teams,” Jackson said. “We’re evaluating guys in different positions, and some guys are stepping up. So we’re starting to get a clearer picture there.”

With the opening weekend of the regular season behind them, the Irish now head home for another week of practice before hosting Ohio State in the last two games at the Joyce Center. Jackson says he’s looking forward to both the additional practice time and the home stand against the Buckeyes.

“There are certainly some things we still have to work on,” he said. “It’s still the second week, and we’ve had maybe a half-dozen practices. We’ve seen some positive signs, and we see that we’re improving at some areas that were focal points coming into the year. We’ve got to get ready for Ohio State ⎯ they’re a quality team. We want to send the Joyce Center out in grand fashion.”

Contact Jack Hefferon at wheffero@nd.edu