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Hockey: Skating to the top

Dan Murphy | Monday, February 5, 2007

For the second week in a row, Notre Dame got off to a slow start on a Saturday night. And for the second week in a row, the Irish fought back for points.

After falling behind 1-0 in the first period against Bowling Green Saturday, Notre Dame scored twice to complete a weekend and season sweep of the Falcons, putting itself in the mix for the No. 1 ranking.

“[Bowling Green] played their best series of the year. They made it difficult to create a lot offensively,” Irish coach Jeff Jackson said. “It was a matter of grunting out or gritting out a couple of wins.”

The pair of wins brings the No. 2 Irish – who beat the Falcons twice in November – to 23-5-2 on the year and 17-3-2 in conference play. Jackson’s squad will find out today if it’s earned the nation’s top ranking after current No. 1 New Hampshire dropped a 4-2 contest to No. 9 Maine Friday night.

Notre Dame 3, Bowling Green 2

Notre Dame earned a tough win Friday against a determined Falcons squad. A pair of power-play goals in the first period from freshmen Dan Kissel and Ryan Thang gave the Irish enough of an early edge to hand the Falcons their ninth straight game without a win.

Kissel got the scoring started during a 5-on-3 advantage when junior Mark Van Guilder found him open on the doorstep, and the rookie slipped it past goaltender Jimmy Spratt for his sixth of the season.

The Falcons got one skater out of the box after the goal, but before they could return to full strength the Irish power play struck again.

This time, defenseman Brett Blatchford fired a pass from the point and Thang, who was parked down low, deflected it into the back of the net. The goal – Thang’s 16th on the year – put him one ahead of Van Guilder for the team lead.

“We know that unit has been productive throughout the season. It’s just a matter of finding more consistency with the other unit,” Jackson said of the Irish special teams.

Bowling Green tied the score in the second period with two goals of its own. Sophomore Brandon Svendsen put the Falcons on the board when he got just enough behind the puck to put it over goaltender Dave Brown’s shoulder with six minutes left in the first. Senior James Unger then evened out the score at 4:22 in the second when he took advantage of a long rebound from a John Mazzei shot. Brown made the initial save but was not able to regain his feet to stop the second attempt.

The score remained tied until Irish senior Michael Bartlett netted the game-winner for the Irish on a rebound opportunity of their own. With less than a minute remaining in the second, linemate Jason Paige took a shot from the top of the faceoff circle and Bartlett sealed the deal in a scrum in front of the net.

“I decided to keep [that line] together because they played well against Miami last weekend,” Jackson said. “They generated some good cycle plays for us on offense and I can always trust them defensively.”

Notre Dame 2, Bowling Green 1

Bartlett played a key role in Saturday’s victory as well, scoring the first Notre Dame goal for his third of the year.

Once again, the senior was down low to pick up a rebound goal when Brock Sheahan’s shot from the point was turned away by Jimmy Spratt 7:31 into the second period.

Freshman Kevin Deeth added another power-play tally for the Irish seven minutes later. After gaining control of the zone, classmate Kyle Lawson zipped a tape-to-tape pass to Deeth, who tapped it on net and beat Spratt in the five hole.

The stingy Irish defense took over from there, holding the Falcons to three shots in the final period (15 total), and Brown had no problem turning away the few chances he had to face.

Notre Dame will put its five-game unbeaten streak on the line Friday when it returns home to face Nebraska-Omaha Feb. 9-10.