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Hockey: Irish drop both ends of home-and-home against Ferris State

Jack Hefferon | Sunday, February 12, 2012

With the CCHA standings tightly grouped late in the season, No. 9 Notre Dame entered its weekend series against No. 5/6 Ferris State looking to earn valuable points in conference and get back to scoring goals. Despite firing 59 shots and controlling much of the flow of play, the team was unable to do either, as the Bulldogs (20-8-4, 14-6-4-1 CCHA) swept the Irish (16-13-3, 11-10-3-0) and held them to just one goal on the weekend.

The weekend began with Friday’s game at the Compton Family Ice Arena, where the Irish were shut out for the first time in nearly a year, but not for a lack of trying. Bulldogs senior goaltender Taylor Nelson stopped all 31 Irish shots and junior left winger Kyle Bonis scored twice in the second period, including a power play goal to open the scoring.

Ferris State sealed the deal in the third period, killing off two consecutive powerplays to start the period. The Bulldogs jumped on an Irish turnover in the defensive zone to put the game away at 3-0.

The Bulldogs may have only taken 23 shots, but their defense ensured that the lead would stand.

“Against a team like Ferris, you have to play a very patient game,” Irish coach Jeff Jackson said Friday. “We may have played better, but we still turned the puck over in a few key situations that ended up in goals against or in penalties, and that’s how they beat us.”

After Friday’s loss, Notre Dame travelled to Big Rapids, Mich., for a chance to split the series Saturday. Sophomore goaltender Steven Summerhays got the start for the Irish after junior Mike Johnson lost the night before, but Summerhays did not survive the first period. After a few strong opening shifts, Notre Dame surrendered the opening goal less than five minutes in, then let through another just 51 seconds later. With that, Jackson pulled Summerhays for Johnson, in an attempt to swing momentum.

“I didn’t blame Steven on the first goal, but I thought the second one he should have had. [Pulling him] was more about the situation,” Jackson said. “The timing of scoring two quick goals just went against everything we had talked about earlier in the day about competing harder and being difficult to play against.

“I felt we were doing that, but then we gave up two early goals, and it was more a matter of trying to shake that up and trying to move forward. “

The move worked initially, as junior center Riley Sheahan scored on a slapshot later in the first, finally slipping a puck past the previously impregnable Nelson. However, Ferris State closed out the game with three more goals, pushing their unbeaten streak to 12 games with a 5-1 victory.

“We started off with them giving up a couple of early goals and got off track,” Jackson said. “I actually thought we played pretty well in those next 30 or 40 minutes before they scored the third goal. We had chances, and their goaltender played really well, but right now we’re fighting it. Scoring goals has really become an obstacle.”

With the series sweep, Notre Dame now falls into a tie for seventh in the conference, with just four games left to play before the CCHA playoffs begin. The road will get no easier for the Irish this weekend, as they’ll have to travel to take on No. 20 Miami. There, Notre Dame will have to earn every goal and point, as it tries to climb out of its current three-game skid.

“I’m not worried about [getting six points at Miami], I’m just worried about getting any points right now,” Jackson said. “I want to make sure we focus on Friday night. We’ve got to get back on track. They’re a very good hockey team … and we’re playing in their building, so I expect it to be a challenge.”

Each game takes on more importance in determining Notre Dame’s postseason fate. Johnson said the key for the Irish might lie in doing the simple things right and letting everything else fall into place.

“I think that we just need to get back to the basics — back to what we do best,” Johnson said after Friday’s game. “And I think with the team we have, we need to know that good things will happen if we do.”

Notre Dame will look to snap its losing streak when it travels to Miami this Friday and Saturday.

Contact Jack Hefferon at wheffero@nd.edu