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Hockey: Special teams shine in road sweep of Bowling Green

Jack Hefferon | Sunday, October 30, 2011

When you’re number one, you’re expected to beat everyone.

Notre Dame opened the season as the top-ranked team in the country, but slipped to No. 5 in the polls after splitting series with No. 10 Minnesota-Duluth and Ohio State. This past weekend though, the team was able to take care of business as the Irish (5-2-0, 3-1-0-0 CCHA) swept Bowling Green on the road for its first two-win weekend of the year.

Friday’s game against the Falcons (4-3-1, 1-3-0-0) was a showcase of Notre Dame’s prowess on special teams. Sophomore forward Anders Lee opened the scoring for Notre Dame early in the first period. With the man advantage, senior right wing Billy Maday took a pass at the top of the circle then found Lee parked on the far post for the tap-in goal.

After the teams traded goals in the second period, Notre Dame was able to exploit a 5-on-3 advantage in the third. Sophomore center T.J. Tynan fed freshman defenseman Robbie Russo, whose rocket shot gave him his first goal of his year and gave his team its 3-1 victory.

“The chemistry on the power play is really starting to click right now, ever since we put Maday up top on the first unit,” Irish coach Jeff Jackson said. “This weekend was really their first extended playing time, and they’re starting to get used to playing with each other.”

Opposite the power play was the Irish penalty kill, which was also a key factor in Friday’s victory. The shorthanded unit held Bowling Green scoreless in all four of the Falcons’ power play chances, including an extended 5-on-3.

“Our penalty kill also played very well, and that’s partly goaltending,” Jackson said. “[Junior] Mike Johnson played great for us back there. The other part of it is our skaters, and we’re starting to narrow down who we want out there now, heading into the second month of the season.”

After starting out hot Friday, the team found itself facing a 2-1 deficit heading into the final period Saturday. The Irish rally began on the power play with Lee, who one-timed his 10th goal of the year home to equal the score. That 10-goal count made Lee the highest scorer in college hockey this year.

“Anders is always in the right place at the right time,” Jackson said. “He’s got a great shot and he just finds ways to score big goals for us.”

While Lee may be one of the most feared scorers in the country, the game-winning goal came from one of the least heralded players on the team: senior center Patrick Gaul. After contributing just three points in his first three seasons, Gaul has four already this year, including his top-shelf wrist shot that sealed the deal on Saturday.

“I’m definitely happy for him,” Jackson said. “He wouldn’t be in the position he’s in without the great attitude he’s had. He didn’t play at all last year, but he’s been working hard on the ice, and in the weight room, and it’s paying dividends for him. He’s not the biggest guy and he’s not the fastest guy, but he’s been taking advantage of the opportunity that’s been given to him.”

After Gaul’s goal, the Irish successfully killed two more penalties and Johnson was called upon to make some big saves to secure the victory and the much-needed sweep.

“It was a tough road weekend. Bowling Green was a tough opponent,” Jackson said. “It’s good to get out of there with two wins, and now we’ve got another test this weekend.”

Notre Dame will travel to the upper peninsula for a series with Northern Michigan this Friday and Saturday. Game time on both nights will be at 7:35 p.m.

Contact Jack Hefferon at wheffero@nd.edu