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Hockey Commentary: Double overtime first round game exhausted Irish

Dan Murphy | Monday, March 26, 2007

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich, – Chances are 99 percent of the hockey world has never heard his name before – and will likely never hear it inside a rink again – but Alabama-Huntsville goaltender Marc Narduzzi may have single-handedly put a halt to Notre Dame’s dream of a national championship.

The senior netminder came off the bench Friday with his team in a 2-0 hole against the No. 1 team in the country and proceeded to deny the Irish for over 90 minutes before finally surrendering a goal. Narduzzi stood on his head for the Chargers, making 49 saves before freshman Ryan Thang finally found a chink in the armor for a 3-2 double overtime win – more than four hours after the opening faceoff.

Notre Dame avoided the monumental upset, but the victory was a Pyrrhic one. The Irish had less than 24 hours to recover physically and mentally from the marathon matchup, and it was clear they were a step slower than Michigan State during their 2-1 loss in Saturday’s regional championship game.

The lack of steam was most evident during the second period when Michigan State goalie Jeff Lerg faced only three shots and the Spartans got off nine, including a Chris Mueller put back that gave them their first lead of the game.

The Spartans frustrated the exhausted Notre Dame team by feeding it a dose of its own medicine. A pestering forecheck, a solid team defense and an impenetrable penalty kill unit kept Notre Dame from even sniffing a scoring chance on its five power plays. All season Notre Dame has controlled the puck from start to finish, but Saturday Michigan State won the faceoff battle (45-36) and seemed to control the pace for much of the contest.

In order to keep up with their opponents, the Irish were forced to take a lot of penalties.

“I think that is where a little bit of last night showed up,” Irish coach Jeff Jackson said after Saturday’s game. “They weren’t discipline penalties – they were a little bit a-step-behind penalties.”

The team was whistled for 10 penalties on the night. Two of those led to Michigan State’s goals, and another took away an Irish goal that would have tied the game at two apiece with less than three minutes left.

Sophomore left wing Garrett Regan was called for goaltender interference when he crashed the net hard and collided with Lerg in the crease. The Irish put the loose puck in the net, but referee Peter Feolay waved off the goal due to the contact.

“I felt that he was funneled in to net. The goalie was still eligible to play the puck after the initial contact,” said junior linemate Evan Rankin. “I thought it was a very questionable call,”

It seems a bit cliché to dwell on officiating after the final loss of a season, but the crucial call could have gone either way down the stretch.

The call extinguished the last bit of spark the Irish had in them and all but ended what was arguably the greatest season in the history of Notre Dame hockey.

The team and its fans were clearly disappointed to fall short of reaching the Frozen Four in St. Louis, but the humongous strides taken this season will go a long way toward reaching what Jackson has referred to as “the ultimate prize” – a national championship.

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

Contact Dan Murphy at [email protected]