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Gans: Team has pair of capable goalies (Oct. 31)

By Sam Gans | Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The new Notre Dame starter is dynamic and exciting, though not as experienced as his backup.

The backup is older, calm and a former multi-year starter. Perhaps not as physically talented as the current starter, he is still more than ready to contribute whenever his number is called.

If you think I was referring to Everett Golson and Tommy Rees in the opening two paragraphs, you are incorrect.

In the middle of the hoopla over Notre Dame’s incredible football season up to this point, the No. 7 Irish hockey team is quietly off to a great start of its own, thanks in large part to the strong goaltending of junior Steven Summerhays.

Summerhays was mostly used in a backup role as a freshman and sophomore until he seized the starting job over the final month of last season, with a .954 save percentage in the final five games he started. He proceeded to start the first five games this season, allowing only eight goals, as the Irish (5-1-0, 2-0-0-0 CCHA) won four of those contests.

The man he replaced, senior Mike Johnson, was Notre Dame’s No. 1 goalie for most of his first three years in South Bend, including the Irish run to the Frozen Four in 2010-2011. Unfortunately, despite moments of stellar play, Johnson’s inconsistency allowed Summerhays to take over the starting position in February, a position he never let go.

Unlike a backup quarterback in football, however, a backup hockey goalie is not used solely when the starter is hurt or plays poorly. He still has to start some games, both to rest the starter and keep himself fresh should the starter get injured later in the season.

And so Johnson played for the first time all year Saturday, putting forth a solid effort by notching 26 saves in a 3-2 win at Northern Michigan.

Johnson’s performance is not a surprise if you look at both his past play and the attitude he’s shown throughout the season. Rather than mope after his demotion, he has embraced the challenge to both mentor and push Summerhays.

“We’re rooting for each other and we’re working hard against each other in practice, so it’s still a really healthy relationship and we’re getting along great,” Johnson said.

Summerhays also said he has benefited from Johnson’s presence.

“He’s someone I look up to,” Summerhays said. “He led this team to a Frozen Four, so everyone knows that he can play well. So that was good that he got an opportunity to play this weekend. And everyone has just as much confidence in him as they do in me, so I don’t think that’s a question. It’s nice to have a day off here, and no matter who’s playing either night, he’s always supporting me and I’m supporting him.”

Ultimately, Irish coach Jeff Jackson made the right move going with Summerhays, based on the ability he showed late last year. Notre Dame’s fate – a potential CCHA championship or Frozen Four berth -will be largely determined by how the new starter performs. But the Irish also have an experienced, capable backup ready to play should they need him. And both have helped push the Irish to a red-hot start.

Sound familiar?

Contact Sam Gans at

sgans@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.