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Hockey Commentary: Hobey Baker candidate must stay sharp even as pressure remains light

Dan Murphy | Monday, February 12, 2007

Any goalie in the nation would be thrilled with the opportunity to suit up for Notre Dame. From front to back the Irish smother opposing offenses by playing tough in their own zone and controlling the puck. But for Hobey Baker candidate Dave Brown, his supporting cast can quickly become an Achilles heel.

Brown faced 22 shots in Saturday’s 2-2 tie with Nebraska-Omaha, more than half of which came in the last eight minutes of regulation and the five minute overtime period. The senior was as cold as ice when the Mavericks finally clicked, scoring both of their goals in the last 4:12. It was like stepping into the ring with Mike Tyson after nine rounds of Sock-N-Boppers against Sister Mary Grace – he’s probably going to land a few.

In the first period, Brown had the best seat in the house, even though that’s not much to brag about at the Joyce Center. The first save he had to make wasn’t until Mavs’ defenseman Dan Knapp got off a desperation shot from center ice as the horn blew. In fact, the first Irish goalie to touch the puck was backup Jordan Pearce, who made a nice glove save when an errant pass was deflected into the Notre Dame bench.

That was the second time this season that an Irish opponent was held to one shot on net in a period – the first was in a 3-0 shutout against Army Oct. 27. The Black Knights tallied up a whopping seven total shots in the contest. Low numbers like those have become the norm at Notre Dame; the last time a team registered higher than 20 was Miami more then two weeks ago.

Brown currently owns the NCAA’s top goals against average at 1.72 and the third best winning percentage (.817), while ranking only 12th in save percentage. A lot of the credit for those numbers goes to his teammates who have consistently eliminated rebound chances and odd man rushes with physical play throughout the season. That extra support has catapulted Brown into the national spotlight in his senior year, making him a media favorite as well as a leading candidate to nab hockey’s highest honor – the Hobey Baker. He would be quick to tell you that those honors are as much of a reflection of the team as on his own personal success.

However, Irish coach Jeff Jackson and Brown both agreed that seeing a steady diet of 30 shots a game may have made those impressive stats even better. Facing a constant flow of action during a game is easier for a goalie than staying mentally focused in between spurts of offense that add up to the 15-20 shots he has been seeing on an average night this year.

That doesn’t mean that the Notre Dame defense will slack off in the last two weeks of the regular season. Brown and Jackson are both more than happy with the formula that has earned them a 24-5-3 record and a first round bye in the CCHA playoffs. And as for the stats, the only one number they need to be concerned with is No. 1.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Contact Dan Murphy at [email protected]