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Hockey: Spartans take two contests

Chris Khorey | Monday, February 6, 2006

In a weekend that may turn out to be crucial in its quest for home ice in the CCHA playoffs, Notre Dame was swept 3-2 and 2-1 by No. 14 Michigan State in a home-and-home series Friday and Saturday.

The Irish, who fell to 9-16-3 over all and 7-12-3 in the CCHA, currently reside in a three-way tie for ninth in the 12-team league. They are five points out of eighth place, which would earn Notre Dame a first round CCHA playoff game at the Joyce Center March 3.

That goal took a major hit over the weekend, however, with two losses to the Spartans, who stifled the Irish with aggressive defense in both games.

“They play a really good defensive style,” Notre Dame forward Josh Sciba said. “They had excellent stick position, so we ended up with a lot of tipped and blocked shots. All we need to do is get the puck better along the boards and make sure we keep trying to put the puck in the net.”

The Irish started Friday’s contest in South Bend strong, earning a few early chances against Michigan State goalie Dominic Vicari, but were unable to score.

The Spartans broke the scoreless tie with a power play goal by Justin Abdelkader at 13:37 of the first period. Irish forward Tim Wallace was called for holding, and the Spartans peppered goalie Dave Brown for most of the power play until Abdelkader skated in and pushed a rebound past Brown for the 1-0 lead.

After a scoreless second period, much of which saw Notre Dame killing off penalties, Sciba tied the game with a power-play goal of his own. A hooking penalty on Jim McKenzie with 35 seconds left in the second period gave Notre Dame the man advantage to start the third period. Sciba capitalized with a shot from the blue line.

“We came into the period after the intermission where we had talked about getting more shots at Vicari,” the junior said. “I just found my way into the middle and got a nice pass from [Mark] Van Guilder. Fortunately, the puck found the back of the net.”

The tie score would not last. Barely four minutes later, a shot by MSU forward Tim Crowder trickled past Brown’s pad and into the net to give the Spartans the lead.

Michigan State would extend its advantage three minutes later, when forward Tim Kennedy broke away from the pack and snuck the puck between Brown’s stick and his body.

The Irish got a goal of their own from Evan Rankin with nine seconds left to pull within one, but it was too little too late. Still, Sciba said the team felt it could win even as the game drew to a close.

“There’s always a chance, whether the puck bounces one way or another, that you might score,” he said. “Whether there are nine seconds or nine minutes left, we always feel like we can score.”

Saturday’s rematch in East Lansing was one of the best games of Brown’s career, but even his season-high 38 saves could not save the Irish from another defeat.

The Spartans peppered the Notre Dame goalkeeper all night, scoring their first goal on a deflection by forward David Booth.

The Irish equalized late in the second period. Just after Michigan State returned to full strength following a Notre Dame power play, Irish freshman Erik Condra took a pass from junior Wes O’Neill and fired it home to tie the game.

In the ensuing minutes, the Spartans had two breakaway chances to tie the game, but couldn’t capitalize on either of them as shots by Abdelkader and Booth both clanged off the posts. Michigan State finally broke through for the game-winner with 5:29 left in the game on a shot by team captain Drew Miller. Miller deflected a rebound of a Booth shot past Brown to earn the weekend sweep for his team.

Notre Dame will try to right the ship next weekend in a home and home against Ferris State Friday and Saturday.