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Hockey: Irish sweep to clinch 2nd

Sam Gans | Monday, March 4, 2013

No. 12 Notre Dame took care of business in its attempt to win the CCHA regular-season championship by sweeping visiting Bowling Green on Friday and Saturday in the final regular-season conference games of the season.

However, Miami’s victory over Ohio State on Saturday clinched the regular-season title for the RedHawks, and the Irish finished in second place.

The Irish (21-12-3, 17-8-3-2 CCHA) entered the weekend in third place in the conference. Thanks to a 4-3 victory Friday and a 4-1 win Saturday over the Falcons (13-18-5, 10-15-3-1) and Western Michigan’s loss Saturday to Michigan State, Notre Dame jumped the Broncos in the standings but could not catch Miami. The pair of wins stretched Notre Dame’s unbeaten streak to five games, and the Irish have lost just once in their last nine contests.

“Obviously, first [place] would have been preferable, but for what happened to us in January, for us to rebound the way we have here in the last month is really good, because at least we go into the playoffs going in the right direction,” Irish coach Jeff Jackson said.

Notre Dame scored 5:31 into the game Saturday when freshman forward Mario Lucia put away a shot near the top of the crease off a pass from sophomore defenseman Robbie Russo, who was behind the goal. Falcon junior forward Andrew Wallace responded later in the first to tie the score at one.

The Irish dominated play in the second period – outshooting the Falcons 13-4 – and scored the only goal of the period when junior center David Gerths intercepted an errant pass from Falcon senior goaltender Andrew Hammond and shot the puck past a scrambling Hammond.

“[Gerths has] been playing extremely well here for the last few months,” Jackson said. “I think he’s really elevated his game, which has made us a better team obviously. It gives us a little bit more scoring depth on our lines.”

Junior center and captain Anders Lee added his team-leading 18th goal of the season early in the third period, and senior forward Nick Larson sealed the game for the Irish with 2:23 remaining.

All four seniors – Larson, forward Kevin Nugent, defenseman Sam Calabrese and goaltender Mike Johnson – started Saturday for the Irish. Johnson finished with 26 saves in just his seventh appearance of the season.

“The team played awesome in front of me all game, so it made my job a lot easier,” Johnson said. “They’re a tough team to play against. They get to the net and get pucks to the net, so our guys were able to clear the rebounds and keep their chances to a minimum, which really helped me out, and it was really nice to get the win tonight.”

Like Saturday, the Irish had a 4-1 lead Friday, but the Falcons cut the deficit to 4-3 with two goals 1:01 apart late in the second period. Junior goaltender Steven Summerhays was able to shut the door in the third period, and Notre Dame held on for the win.

Junior center T.J. Tynan and Lucia each scored power play goals in the second period, ending a 0-for-17 skid that spanned more than four games.

“Our power play struggled a little bit, so especially getting my goal and then Lucia’s goal is always a good thing,” Tynan said after Friday’s game. “We got some good bounces tonight.”

With a top-four finish in the conference, Notre Dame clinched a first-round bye in the CCHA tournament and home ice advantage in the second round. The Irish will host a best-of-three series against the second-lowest seed that advances past the first round – either Michigan, Lake Superior State, Bowling Green or Northern Michigan – which Jackson said will be a difficult test.

“Our second round opponent is going to be an extremely good team regardless of who it is and it’ll be challenging,” Jackson said. “I think our whole conference is that way, but we’ll have a tough second round and our goal is to get to Joe Louis [Arena for the CCHA semifinals and championship]. We reached our first objective, which was to finish in the top four of the league, and now our next objective is to get to Detroit.”

Notre Dame is next in action when it hosts the first game of the second round of the CCHA tournament on March 15.

Contact Sam Gans at sgans@nd.edu