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Hockey: Irish take two victories

Jack Hefferon | Monday, October 29, 2012

No. 9 Notre Dame had the upper hand in the Upper Peninsula over the weekend, claiming two road wins over No. 16 Northern Michigan to start their last season in the CCHA on the right note.

The perfect weekend started Friday, when the Irish (5-1-0, 2-0-0-0 CCHA) put together one of their most complete performances of the year in a 5-2 victory. Junior netminder Steven Summerhays made 22 saves in the win, and the defense didn’t allow a goal after the Wildcats (3-3-0, 0-2-0-0) scored twice to end the first period.

Offensively, the team got its five goals from five different scorers, with goals coming both from marquee scorers – like junior center and captain Anders Lee – as well as less-heralded offensive players like junior center David Gerths, who tallied his second goal in as many games.

“That balanced scoring means a lot,” Irish coach Jeff Jackson said. “It takes some of the pressure off of guys like Lee and [junior center] T.J. Tynan, which is important, and shows other teams that we have other guys that can score. If we can get three or four other guys to consistently contribute, that can only make us that much better offensively.”

That play on both ends of the ice left Jackson happy with his team’s performance, although he still found it to be a little less than complete.

“I’m very pleased with our play on Friday,” he said. “We still played poorly for the second ten minutes of the first period, but I thought we played the other 50 minutes very well.”

The Irish kept that momentum rolling Saturday, as a breakout performance from freshman center Steven Fogarty propelled Notre Dame to a 3-2 victory. Deadlocked at one in the second period, Fogarty took a pass and fired a wrist shot from the right faceoff dot through the legs of Wildcat junior goaltender Jared Coreau.

Fogarty put the Irish even further ahead nine minutes later, when he chased a rebound on the power play and slung it towards the net, where it deflected off Coreau and in for the score.

The goals were the first two of Fogarty’s short collegiate career, something that Jackson said is a big step in his development.

“[Fogarty] is still feeling his way through college hockey,” Jackson said. “We know that he has the offensive ability, so I’ve been sticking with him even though he’s adjusting and gaining experience. Saturday was a big step forward offensively for him, and that should give him some confidence going forward.”

While it was Fogarty that put the Irish ahead, it was senior goaltender Mike Johnson that kept them there. With the lead cut to 3-2 and Northern Michigan bringing on an extra attacker, Johnson made some huge saves to close out the victory. Johnson, who started most of Notre Dame’s games last season, made his first start of the season and finished with 26 saves.

“We need to keep guys fresh, and having Mike helps with that,” Jackson said. “There might be a point where we need him this season. [Summerhays] is our guy, and I don’t expect that to change, but Mike did a very good job on Saturday. He’s been practicing well, and he deserved an opportunity to get in there this weekend. He’s been a big part of our team for the past three years, and having him can only be a good thing for us going forward this year.”

The weekend performance in a hostile conference environment is a great start to Notre Dame’s conference slate, but a tough stretch of both CCHA and non-conference games await. Notre Dame will host No. 10 Western Michigan next weekend, while a murderer’s row of No. 1 Boston College, No. 6 Michigan and No. 4 North Dakota awaits the Irish through the balance of November. With such a demanding stretch coming up, Jackson was able to find several areas that will need to be tightened up, even after an undefeated weekend.

“It’s still early in the season, and we have a number of things to continue working on,” Jackson said. “We still showed deficiencies on the power play, and face-offs still have to improve. The key is just to keep getting better with every game and every series.”

The Irish are next in action Friday when they host Western Michigan at 7:35 p.m. at the Compton Family Ice Arena.

Contact Jack Hefferon at wheffero@nd.edu