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Coach beats old team to reach championship

Kyle Cassily | Tuesday, March 20, 2007

DETROIT – Notre Dame advanced to the CCHA championship with a 3-0 shutout of Lake Superior State – the team with which Irish coach Jeff Jackson first established his coaching credentials – in the league semifinals Friday at Joe Louis Arena.

“I’m awful proud of the fact [Lake Superior State] made it here again. I’ll always feel that way,” Irish coach Jeff Jackson said. “Because [Lake Superior State] is part of my heritage -my hockey heritage.”

The No. 1 and top-seeded Irish (30-6-3) moved on to their second-ever league championship after they defeated eighth-seeded Lake Superior State (21-18-3) with a little offense from the defense.

The Irish got a goal apiece from defensemen Wes O’Neill and Brock Sheahan – and an empty netter from center Christian Hanson – to defeat a Lakers team that was a week removed from a two-game upset of third-seeded Miami in the second round. Notre Dame’s defense was forced to beat Lake Superior State goalie Jeff Jakaitis (26 saves) from the point, after the Irish offense was neutralized on every scoring chance deep in the Lakers’ zone.

“We’re playing teams that keep a lot of people back, and if you don’t have your defensemen activate, you’re not going to score,” Jackson said. “Everybody has got four guys back in the neutral zone, five guys back. So if your defense don’t activate, you’re not scoring.”

On the other end of the ice, the Irish defense limited Lake Superior State to 17 shots, helping Notre Dame goalie Dave Brown earn his sixth shutout of the year, the 12th of his career – both Notre Dame records – and his first in the playoffs.

Despite facing only nine shots at the end of two periods, Brown was not cold in net when Lake Superior State challenged him with eight third-period shots. The senior Hobey Baker candidate made three consecutive saves with 11 minutes remaining in the game and then smothered a breakaway from Lakers left wing Dan Eves to stave off the last Lakers’ attacks and preserve the lead.

“David Brown has had one of the best seasons in the country,” Jakaitis said. “He’s one of the best in the country, the top player in our league.”

Irish defenseman Wes O’Neill extended his playoff scoring streak with his goal at 9:46 of the first period on the power play to give Notre Dame the 1-0 lead. O’Neill beat Jakaitis high with a wrist shot from the low left point for his third goal of the season – one in each of this year’s three playoff games. The Irish worked the puck around on the man advantage to left wing Mark Van Guilder inside the circle, who then backhanded the puck up to O’Neill for the shot.

“The main difference is just shooting the puck,” O’Neill said of his hot stick. “Coach has been on me all year to shoot, shoot, shoot and finally the last couple games, I’ve been getting a couple more chances than I normally do.”

Prior to O’Neill’s goal, Jakaitis had stopped 88 of 90 shots faced, dating back to the first game of Lake Superior State’s series against Miami. He made 81 total saves and allowed two goals in the Lakers two-game sweep of the RedHawks, including 44 stops in Lake Superior State’s 2-1 series-clinching win Saturday.

“When you are going up against a good goaltender like Jakaitis, you have to make sure you shut them down, because you may only win one to nothing,” Jackson said. “And that is just about what it was.”

The Irish out-muscled a smaller Lake Superior State team and cordoned off the slot in their own zone, forcing the Lakers to make low-percentage shots from the outside.

Notre Dame added to O’Neill’s goal when Irish defenseman Brock Sheahan scored his third goal of the year and the second of the playoffs with a one-timer past Jakaitis at 8:46 of the second period for the 2-0 lead. Sheahan one-timed the shot low to Jakaitis’ blocker side from the left point after Condra passed the puck out of a scrum in the left corner to the top of the Lakers’ zone.

“I couldn’t even see where Jakaitis was because of the traffic in front of the net,” Sheahan said of his one-timer. “I was trying to shoot blocker side, and it happened to hit that guy off his leg and go blocker side.”

The Lakers pulled Jakaitis with three minutes remaining in the game and Hanson potted a shot into the empty net at 17:33 to pad the Notre Dame lead at 3-0 and earn his sixth goal of the season.

“[The Irish] have a lot of good things going for them right now, and it’s not going to slow down,” Lakers coach Jim Roque said. “Jeff [Jackson] is going to keep that thing rolling.”

Notre Dame reached its first CCHA final in 1982 after it defeated Bowling Green 8-5 in the semis, before falling to Michigan State in the championship.