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Irish offense too much for Nanooks in sweep

Kyle Cassily | Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Notre Dame achieved its preseason goal of reaching Joe Louis Arena and avenged an opening round loss in last year’s playoffs to Alaska with a two-game sweep March 9-10 at the Joyce Center.

The No. 1 Irish advanced to the CCHA semifinals after 7-1 and 3-1 wins over Alaska in the second round of the playoffs, during which Notre Dame never trailed, was not out-shot and dominated man-advantage and man-down situations.

“[Notre Dame] was playing at a hundred miles per hour, and we were at fifty,” Alaska coach Tavis MacMillan said. “It’s tough to play against a team going twice as fast as you.”

The Irish ensured that the ghosts of last season would not resurface when the Nanooks again lumbered into the Joyce Center for a playoff series, scoring five unanswered goals in the opening period of the first game. From there, Alaska managed to close the Irish lead to one goal only one more time, when the Nanooks made it a 2-1 game in the second period of the second game.

Irish right wing Erik Condra continued to create scoring chances and set up open teammates for goals – his hallmark in two seasons at Notre Dame – with five assists in two games.

The scoring was spread evenly throughout the rest of the Irish roster. Left wing Garrett Regan (two goals, one assist), center Jason Paige (one goal, one assist), center Kevin Deeth (one goal, two assists) and left wing Ryan Thang (one goal, two assists) all contributed to the Irish scoreboard.

The Irish defense stonewalled the Nanooks offense like they have done to the opposition all season, but against Alaska they came alive offensively as well. Defensemen Wes O’Neill, Brock Sheahan and Kyle Lawson each scored at least once on Alaska goalies Wylie Rogers and Chad Johnson in the series.

“It’s something we’ve kind of waited for a lot over the year,” Irish coach Jeff Jackson said of the offensive defensemen. “These guys are the backbone of our team, them and [goalie Dave] Brown. They make the difference.”

Brown padded his Hobey Baker stats with 37 saves in two games and surrendered one even-strength goal and one power play goal.

Notre Dame 7, Alaska 1

The Irish scored five goals in the opening period to put the Nanooks away before the game began.

O’Neill scored the first goal of the game – and his first of the season – at 3:06 into the first period. O’Neill received a pass in the left side of the high slot from Condra and beat Alaska goalie Rogers over his blocker for the 1-0 lead.

“Everybody joked with me [and] said, ‘as soon as the playoffs start you’ll start scoring them’,” O’Neill said.

The Irish beat Rogers three more times – on two goals from Regan and one from Sheahan – for the 4-0 lead before the Nanooks goalie was pulled from the game and replaced with Johnson at the 14:25 mark.

Paige then deflected a shot past Johnson only a minute later to welcome the new Alaska goalie to the Irish scoring onslaught and a 5-0 deficit.

“We just wanted to come in and get the forecheck going, and we were lucky to get a couple of bounces there,” Regan said. “We were fortunate to get a couple goals early.”

The Irish scored once in the second period at 16:14 for the 6-0 lead when Lawson broke down the right side of the ice and beat Johnson high on his glove side – yet another goal that began with a Condra pass.

“There was a lot of talk,” Condra said of on-ice communication between the Irish. “That’s how I found guys open.”

Irish left wing Mark Van Guilder gave Notre Dame the 7-0 lead with his power-play goal 58 seconds into the third period. Notre Dame worked the puck around the Nanooks zone several times before center Justin White found Van Guilder alone on the far post for a wide-open goal.

The Irish power play was 2-for-10 in the first game (4-for-16 on the series), while the penalty kill squashed five Alaska man-advantages in the first matchup and killed 10-of-11 penalties for the series.

Alaska scored its only goal of the game to make it 7-1 at the 4:41 mark of the third period. Nanooks defenseman Nathan Fornataro beat Brown high with a slap shot from the point through traffic.

Notre Dame 3, Alaska 1

Alaska came out faster and better able to withstand Notre Dame’s attack in the second game, but two late first-period goals were enough to send the Irish to Detroit.

Thang and O’Neill connected on goals 1:23 apart in the last three minutes of the first period to give Notre Dame the 2-0 lead in a physical game played on slow ice.

Thang buried the puck into the open left side of the net after Rogers deflected a Deeth shot right onto his stick in the low slot at 17:19. O’Neill then deflected a slap shot from White on the point for his second goal of the year and the series.

“In the last month, [O’Neill] has been dominant,” Jackson said. “He’s been the player that I think I have always expected of him.”

Alaska cut the game to 2-1 at the 10:20 mark of the second period with a goal from center Adam Naglich on the power play. Brown made the save on Naglich’s wrist shot, but the puck jolted loose from his pads and bounded into the back of the net.

“We were able to create more pressure and not allow them to come through the neutral zone so much,” MacMillan said.

The Irish got an insurance goal from Deeth at 14:47 in the second period to put the game at 3-1. Defenseman Tom Sawatske ripped a high shot from the point that Deeth tipped out of the air toward the ice and past Rogers.

Both teams settled down to a paced, physical contest for the remaining period before the buzzer sounded and the Irish clinched a trip to Detroit.