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Hockey: Icers sweep WMU in weekend series

Kyle Cassily | Monday, November 19, 2007

No. 10 Notre Dame smothered Western Michigan’s offense in a sweep of the league opponent this weekend, surrendering only 23 shots in two games.

The Irish (9-4, 7-2 CCHA) defeated the Broncos 4-1 at home Friday night and then traveled to Kalamazoo, Mich., on Saturday where they won 5-1. Notre Dame put 71 shots on net in the two games, outshooting Western Michigan 44-12 on Friday.

“I think [Friday night] dealt with our forwards’ ability to possess the puck, that’s something we’ve been harping on all year – our inability to control the puck,” Irish defenseman Dan VeNard said.

Western Michigan (3-7, 1-5 CCHA) was unable to sustain a forecheck in the Irish zone Friday for more than 20 seconds at a time, and it went on several 10-minute stretches when it got no shots on Notre Dame goalie Jordan Pearce. The Notre Dame offense, a young unit that has gelled in the last few weeks, scored two even-strength goals in the first game – something Irish coach Jeff Jackson had stressed as one of the team’s weaknesses – and otherwise dominated the Broncos with superb cycling and a barrage of shots.

“We controlled the tempo for probably seventy-five percent of the game from the offensive zone perspective and our work ethic,” Jackson said. “We spent a lot of time working on that early in the week, and we spent a lot of time working on defensive zone coverage.”

The sweep allowed the third-place Irish to keep pace with No. 1 Miami and No. 2 Michigan in the conference standings, who are four and two points, respectively, ahead of Notre Dame, each having lost only once this season.

The Irish were deadlocked at 1-1 after the first period, despite outshooting the Broncos 11-6, but a three-goal second period with a 15-3 shot advantage put the game away.

VeNard scored the fourth goal of his career and second this season when he ripped a shot from the point past Broncos goaltender Riley Gill at 2:16 of the second period for the 2-1 lead. VeNard’s shot was low, but it hit off the stick of a Western Michigan defenseman and deflected over Gill’s shoulder.

Irish right wing Erik Condra and center Mark Van Guilder then each beat Gill in the last five minutes of the second period on the power play to pad the Notre Dame lead to 4-1. Condra beat Gill over his blocker on a shot from the low left slot, while Van Guilder wristed the puck through traffic and the five-hole for the goal.

“Up until a couple weeks ago, we were all out there, kind of thinking a little bit too much, trying to figure out the system,” Van Guilder said. “But I think it’s starting to come now, it’s starting to come together. We got lines that are starting to get comfortable together.”

Irish right wing Ryan Thang put the Irish up 1-0 at 10:41 of the first period when he took a shot to the glove side while sprawled out in the slot on his stomach.

“I rolled around the corner, kind of got hooked a little bit,” Thang said. “On my first shot attempt it kind of fell over, but the puck was still there so I took another whack at it.”

Western Michigan tied the game at 1-1 with 57 seconds left in the first when Broncos center Mike Lesperance skated down the right side unchallenged and stepped around a diving Pearce to slide the puck in.

On Saturday night, Irish freshman left wing Calle Ridderwall scored the first goal of his career, which tied the game at 1-1 in the first period, en route to the 5-1 win. The Irish outshot the Broncos 27-11 and scored their third power play goal of the weekend on a second-period goal from Thang.