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Hockey: Two goalkeepers vie for net time, thrive on competition

Jack Hefferon | Wednesday, November 16, 2011

It is a problem with no solution, or it is no problem at all depending on your point of view.

The dilemma for Irish coach Jeff Jackson is how to fit two very talented goaltenders into a crease that holds only one at a time. Both junior Mike Johnson and sophomore Steven Summerhays have made big saves, posted requisite numbers and backstopped their team admirably so far this year.

The tandem has been a big reason why No. 4 Notre Dame (8-2-2, 6-1-2 CCHA) has won its past three games and is unbeaten in its last eight. For a team looking to improve upon their Frozen Four appearance last year, optimizing the production out of the goaltender position may be the extra push the Irish need.

As recently as two and a half weeks ago, Jackson commented that the competition between Johnson and Summerhays wasn’t as close as he had hoped, as Johnson led the team through five games without defeat. After surrendering four goals in a chaotic opening period against Alaska though, Jackson sent in Summerhays, who shut out the Nanooks the rest of the way to earn the 5-4 victory. Summerhays earned the start and the victory the next night, and the competition appeared to tighten back up.

“The defense did a good job letting me see the shots,” Summerhays said. “And coming in cold, you want to be able to take the first couple of shots nice and easy and play your game and get settled into the game like that, that had been so high-scoring. So they did a good job letting me settle in that game, and I think the confidence I gained there carried into the next night.”

On Tuesday though, Johnson bounced right back with a midweek win over Western Michigan. Johnson said he was pushed to be his best because of Summerhays’ performance, and that the competition is good for both of them and the team.

“We push each other every day in practice to get better, but at the same time we both want the best for each other,” Johnson said. “So I think it’s a really good, healthy relationship. This weekend he played great and I was rooting him on, and he was rooting me on Tuesday. We have a really good relationship and I think that’s a lot better than other goalies you hear about that might not like each other.”

With the success the pair has been having, Jackson has been left with a tough decision on who to start this Friday in a crucial matchup against No. 3 Boston College.

“I think [Summerhays] deserves another start, it’s just a matter of when it’s going to be,” Jackson said. “I always evaluate based on practice performance and game performance. It’s kind of a last-minute decision for me. I don’t know [who will start] yet. I may start against BC.”

And while it’s doubtful that Jackson will call his own number on Friday, Summerhays expects the start to go to Johnson, but remains ready for an opportunity at any time.

“I think [the situation with] me and Johnson is unique because not every college has two guys who could probably start, whereas here I think we both know we’re both capable of starting, so I think that completion between us pushes us to be better every day,” he said. “So I want to be in that position, given the opportunity and chance to show the team and this school and everyone that I can be the starting guy.”

Regardless of who earns the start on Friday though, both goaltenders will need to be on their game to shut down the high-flying Eagles attack.

“Their forwards are probably the most talented in the nation,” Summerhays said. “It’s going to be a really offensive game, so we’re going to have to shut their top line down and that comes with good defensive play, special teams and of course goaltending. We’ve got to be at our best.”

The Irish will return to the ice Friday against Boston College. The puck will drop at the Compton Family Ice Arena at 7:35 p.m.

 

Contact Jack Hefferon at wheffero@nd.edu