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Besting the Best

Dan Murphy | Monday, January 29, 2007

With seven minutes remaining in Saturday night’s game, Miami goaltender Jeff Zatkoff looked poised to collect his second shutout of the season and earn a series split with No. 3 Notre Dame – but that changed in a flash.

Two Irish goals tied the game as the squads skated to a 2-2 draw at the Joyce Center in the second game of a weekend series between the Irish and the No. 8/9 RedHawks.

Junior Mark Van Guilder got the Irish on the scoreboard by deflecting a Wes O’Neil shot from the point past Zatkoff at 13:16 of the third period.

“[Senior center Jason] Paige got a big faceoff win and we just tried to get some bodies in front of Zatkoff, Van Guilder said. “Wes made a great play to put the puck right on my stick and I just had to tip it in.”

The goal provided a much needed spark for a Notre Dame club that struggled to get any offense going through the first 50 minutes of play.

Four minutes after Van Guilder scored, sophomore Erik Condra created a turnover behind the Miami net and the loose puck squirted out in front of the crease. Freshman Kevin Deeth seized the opportunity, crashing hard into the net he picked up his 12th goal of the season and knotted the score at two.

“I was overdue this weekend – I had a lot of chances – it was nice to see one finally go in,” Deeth said. “Our line battled all weekend so it was good to get a big one like that.”

Deeth, Condra and linemate Ryan Thang – Notre Dame’s top scoring line this year – were successfully shut down for the majority of the game by a swarming Miami defense.

The No. 8/9 RedHawks held Notre Dame to only three shots in the first period – its lowest total of the season.

“I thought we were lethargic in the first period – it seemed like both teams spent a lot on Friday night. Tonight was a much slower paced game,” Irish coach Jeff Jackson said Saturday.

Senior captain Ryan Jones led the way offensively for visiting Miami with a goal and an assist Saturday night, bringing his weekend total to three points.

Jones’ goal came as the result of a Kyle Lawson miscue behind his own net with just over two minutes remaining in the opening period. The freshman defender turned the puck over and the RedHawks quickly worked the puck around the zone to Jones, who was waiting just outside the crease.

In the second, Jones ripped a shot from the top of the circles on an odd-man rush. The puck bounced in and out of Irish netminder Dave Brown’s glove and sophomore Brian Kaufman cut across the crease and slid the puck over the goal line for a 2-0 lead.

ND 4, Miami 1

A fired up Notre Dame squad got off to a quick start Friday night. The Irish scored three goals in the first 10 minutes of play and were able to coast to an impressive victory, adding a fourth tally in the second stanza.

“When we’ve had success we have been really good in the first period and we had that tonight,” Jackson said.

Van Guilder netted the first score less than two minutes after the opening drop when he scooped up a rebound off of a Garret Regan shot.

A few minutes later freshman Dan Kissel exploded off the bench in his first shift and beat Miami goalie Charlie Effinger with a low, hard shot to the stick side. The goal, which was assisted by senior defenseman Tom Sawatske, was Kissel’s fifth of the year and first since a Nov. 24 win over Nebraska-Omaha.

Thang rounded out the Irish offensive with two power-play goals against the CCHA’s top penalty killing unit.

“They pressure really hard so our strategy was just to move the puck and hopes seams would open up, and they did tonight and we were able to get pucks to the net,” Thang said.

The freshman’s second goal was a laser wrist shot that zipped over Effinger’s shoulder and into the top-left corner of the twine. Fellow freshman Brett Blatchford and Kyle Lawson were credited with the assists.

“That shot was pretty impressive, that’s a pro shot,” Jackson said. “When [Thang] has a good game, boy, you better keep your head up because he can shoot the puck with the best of them.”

While the freshman lit up the scoreboard – collecting seven of the team’s 10 points – it was the Notre Dame veterans that played a huge role in shutting down one of the most dangerous lines in the country. Seniors T.J. Jindra, Michael Bartlett and Jason Paige were matched with Hobey Baker candidate Nathan Davis and his linemates all night long and were able to keep them from posing a serious threat for 60 minutes.

“It’s not always the most prestigious job, but it’s what our team needed to win tonight and we did our job,” Paige said.

Brown, another senior, also came through big for the Irish between the pipes, making 26 saves on 27 shots while fighting off a constant crowd in front of his net.

This weekend improved Notre Dame’s record to 21-5-2 overall and kept them three points ahead of the RedHawks in the conference standings. After an impressive showing from Jackson’s team combined with two losses by No. 1 Minnesota this weekend, the No. 3 Irish could jump a spot or two in the national rankings when released this afternoon.