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HOCKEY: Bartlett, linemates shut down Irish opponents

Dan Murphy | Wednesday, February 7, 2007

With the score tied 2-2 and less than a minute remaining in the second period of Friday’s game against Bowling Green, right wing Michael Bartlett got loose in front of the net and hammered home a rebound that gave Notre Dame a 3-2 win and secured the No. 1 ranking in the country.

The goal also snapped a 24-game goal drought for Bartlett, who now has six career points against the Falcons (four goals, two assists). The senior added a second goal Saturday night in a 2-1 Irish victory.

“It felt great … it’s been a while,” Bartlett said. “They don’t always come but when they do it’s nice.”

Although he has not been lighting up the scoreboard this season, he and linemates T.J. Jindra and Jason Paige have been just as much a part of the team’s success as anyone on the roster. The trio of seniors has had the job of shutting down the opponents’ top lines to give the Irish youth plenty of chances to fill the nets.

Bartlett’s role when on the ice, he says, is to keep the puck out of the Irish zone, finish his checks, and crash the net hard – something that earned him his two most recent goals. All of these jobs are as much about heart as they are about talent, and Bartlett has shown he has both.

“I’ve always known I would be in a defensive role, which is completely fine with me,” he said.

Throughout the season he has performed well in his niche for the team. That is why the 5-foot-11, 200-pound right wing was not surprised at all when Irish coach Jeff Jackson came to him over two weeks ago, a few days before their matchup with CCHA rival No. 12 Miami.

Bartlett, Jindra and Paige were given a mission to shutdown the RedHawks’ Ryan Jones, Nathan Davis, and Brian Kaufman – one of the most dangerous lines in the conference and the nation.

Mission accomplished.

“Coach said he needed us to be real strong defensively. It’s not always the most prestigious job but we all did our job,” said Paige following Friday night’s 4-1 victory.

The group was able to hold Davis – one of the top three candidates for the Hobey Baker award – to a scoreless weekend and keep the rest of his linemates from causing any serious damage as the Irish took three points from Miami, who had been nipping at Notre Dame’s heels for the top spot in the conference.

All three players have worked together on and off throughout the past four years and have built a strong chemistry that allows them to smother opponents before they even get the chance.

“Basically we just tried to keep the puck down in their end, the more we are down there the less chances they have to play offense,” Bartlett said.

Bartlett, who has scored 10 goals and 17 assists in his collegiate career, is no stranger to being a role player. The Illinois native has been a defensive-minded skater since his high school days as well as the two years he spent playing for the U.S. National Development team.

The senior has quietly become an irreplaceable part in the Irish hockey machine, and the Irish anticipate that he will keep his nose to the grindstone if Notre Dame hopes to retain its No. 1 ranking as the season winds down. Bartlett and company will have their hands full once again this weekend as Nebraska-Omaha comes to town for a weekend series at the Joyce Center. The first game begins Friday at 7:35 p.m. with Saturday’s matchup at 7:05 p.m.