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Hockey: Sweep smell of success

Kyle Cassily | Monday, February 13, 2006

The Irish have been gaining momentum since mid-December, but it took a Michigan State setback last weekend to refocus a team firing on almost all cylinders.

Notre Dame (9-12-3 CCHA, 11-16-3 overall) swept the No. 20 Ferris State Bulldogs (9-10-5, 14-12-6) 4-1 and went 3-2 in its home-and-home series on Friday and Saturday night.

The sweep pushes the Irish into a tie for ninth place with Alaska-Fairbanks, which swept Bowling Green in its weekend series. The two teams now trail Northern Michigan and Ohio State by just one point for seventh place, a crucial spot as the No. 8 team earns a home berth in the first round of the playoffs.

“I’m really happy that we won the game, and I’m happy for our crowd because we’ve had some good crowds in here on Friday nights and we’ve disappointed them in the past,” Irish head coach Jeff Jackson said of the series’ Friday home game.

The Irish started strong Friday and opened up a 2-0 lead by the beginning of the second period, but Ferris State cut the lead to one with a late-period goal at 14:27. Notre Dame hung on to end the stanza with the lead, but an Irish bench minor for too many men on the ice at 1:50 of the third gave the Bulldogs a power play.

Ferris State controlled the puck in the Irish zone and worked the puck to the left post, where Irish goalie Dave Brown made the initial save. While Brown was sprawled against the post, the rebound came to Bulldogs sniper Greg Rallo on the right side of the crease with a wide-open net. Rallo shot the puck low into the net when Brown – still on his back – shot his glove out across the goal and snagged the would-be tying score out of Ferris State’s hands.

“They were pressuring us pretty hard,” Brown said. “It was good to get the big save and try to help the guys with the momentum a little bit. “[My teammates] are going hard at the other end, and I wanted to do my part to give them the confidence that I’m back there for them.”

Brown made 26 saves and only allowed the lone goal of the game on a screen shot from defenseman Adam Welch at the point on a Bulldogs power play. The shot broke through a tangle of players in front of the net and was buried over Brown’s right shoulder.

“Without great goaltending, you can’t do anything,” Jackson said. “David has been outstanding since Christmas, and he was pretty good before Christmas. He’s been the difference maker for us. When you get a save like that, it rallies your team and it’s generally a momentum changer.”

The save sparked an Irish offensive flurry, and less than three minutes later, defenseman Wes O’Neill added a game breaker. At 6:00 of the third period, O’Neill stepped up and unleashed a shot from the high left slot that deflected off a stick and hit the twine just under the crossbar.

Left wing Mike Walsh finished off the Bulldogs with a lucky bounce and a great move one minute later. Walsh collected a breakout pass that deflected off the linesman’s skates in the neutral zone. Walsh split the two Bulldogs defensemen and slipped the puck between the post and pad on the low right side for the 4-1 lead at 7:17.

“[Walsh] plays the same way all the time – he plays physical, he plays big, he can skate well,” Jackson said. “He has good skating skills, and I was glad to see him bust through like that. That’s a big time goal, a professional type goal.”

It was not the lone goal for Walsh on the game, as he had already lit the lamp early in the second to give the Irish a 2-0 lead. Right wing T.J. Jindra and Walsh advanced into the Bulldogs zone on a two-on-one. Jindra cut to the center and dished a backhand to Walsh on the right side. Jindra fought through the defense to set up a screen, and Walsh sent a wrister in on the low right side at 4:33.

Erik Condra got the Irish on the board first at 12:48 of the opening period on a power play goal. Notre Dame worked the puck up high around Ferris State’s zone until Mark Van Guilder dished off to Condra. Condra stepped in and shot from above the circle to put the puck in the top right corner.

“To get on the board early with a power play was really crucial for the entire team’s confidence,” Walsh said of Condra’s goal. “Once we had that, everyone was like ‘All right, we’re going to win.'”

Notre Dame continued its dominance over its ranked opponent on Saturday night with a power play-laden 3-2 victory.

The Irish once again got to an early 2-0 lead, with an emphasis on “early.”

Jason Paige scored 46 seconds into the game off a rebound from a Walsh shot. Paige roofed the puck over Bulldogs goalie Mitch O’Keefe’s shoulder.

Josh Sciba then added to his Irish goal lead with his 14th of the year when he created the two-goal lead at 16:02 of the same period. Sciba scored off a dish from Condra.

Ferris State tied the game in the second with two power play goals at 12:23 and 16:21. The goals came from Mark Bomersback and Eric Vesely.

But Van Guilder secured the game winner on an Irish power play with only seconds remaining in the period. Van Guilder collected a pass from Condra in the middle and slipped the winner past O’Keefe for the 3-2 win at 19:53.

Brown was solid in net for the second straight night, saving 29 of 31 shots faced.

The Irish will be in action next weekend with two games on the road against Bowling Green in Bowling Green, Ohio.