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Hockey: Irish fall in first round

By Jack Hefferon | Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The No. 4 Irish had an extremely successful run in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association’s final season, winning the last-ever conference championship at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit on March 24.

Notre Dame’s magical run ended there though, as the top-seeded Irish (25-13-3, 17-8-3 CCHA) lost to No. 9 St. Cloud State 5-1 in the first round of the NCAA tournament Saturday at the Hutchinson Center in Toledo, Ohio.

The Huskies (25-15-1, 18-9-1 WCHA) held the Irish to just 18 shots and scored the game’s first four goals to hand Notre Dame its first loss since Feb. 17.

“We were disappointed with the outcome, but St. Cloud played a great game,” Irish coach Jeff Jackson said in a postgame press conference.

St. Cloud State jumped on the Irish early, as senior forward Ben Hanowski beat Irish junior goaltender Steven Summerhays just 11 minutes in. The Irish seemed to tie the game less than 30 seconds later, but junior captain Anders Lee’s apparent equalizer was kicked into the net, and referees took it off the board.

“It was clearly a kicking motion,” Lee said. “I was trying to get it back to my stick and get it back to the net. It was a reaction play at that high speed.”

Even without Lee’s tally, Notre Dame kept it close through the first period, but the Huskies blew the game open with three goals in the second frame. Summerhays made just four saves on seven shots in the second, prompting Jackson to insert senior goaltender Mike Johnson in the third period.

The Irish hoped to spark a comeback in the final 20 minutes but hamstrung themselves with penalties, taking four minors over the course of the period to hurt their chances at a rally.
“We wanted to come out in the third with a lot of energy and stay out of the penalty box,” junior winger Mike Voran said. “Obviously, that didn’t happen. We knew that if we were going to win the game, we had to take some chances. The penalties didn’t help us. We were doing it to ourselves.”

The Irish scored a consolation goal shorthanded, as Voran hustled in behind the play to drive home a rebound with 13 minutes to play. That was as close as Notre Dame would come though, as it was the Huskies who beat Johnson for the game’s last goal. The game proved to be the final one for Johnson and his fellow seniors, defenseman Sam Calabrese, left wing Nick Larson and right wing Kevin Nugent.

Jackson said he was proud of his seniors and the four years of contributions they have made to the program.

“They are four great kids, and I am extremely proud of them,” Jackson said. “They will all graduate with degrees from Notre Dame. They were good citizens off the ice. They were great as far as coaching them. They all had great attitudes, and they all had their ups and downs. They are strong character kids with great futures ahead of them.”

The Irish will return the majority of their roster behind the four-man senior class, but found out after the game that they lost another key member of their team when Lee signed an entry level contract with the New York Islanders of the NHL. Lee joined the team immediately after Notre Dame’s loss and scored on his first shot in his debut Tuesday, a 5-2 win over Winnipeg.

Notre Dame will continue without its captain next year in a new conference, the Hockey East Association. But regardless of the conference, Jackson said he hopes that his team can continue to improve upon its performance next year.

“I’m proud of this group of kids regardless of the outcome,” said Jackson. “They had a good season, just not good enough, plain and simple. Until our program wins a national championship, I won’t feel like we accomplished what we set out to do.”

Contact Jack Hefferon at wheffero@nd.edu