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Hockey: Biting the Bulldogs

Matt Gamber and Sam Werner | Monday, March 17, 2008

Finally, Notre Dame can breathe.

After recording a sub-.500 record since Christmas during a , disappointing second-half, and after losing Friday’s opener to Ferris State in the best-of-three CCHA quarterfinal series, much-maligned No. 12 Notre Dame (24-14-4) has finally earned the weekend getaway it’s been fighting for since October.

With wins on Saturday and Sunday nights, the Irish came back to take the series and advance to Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena, where they get a chance to defend their conference title.

“Growing up as a kid, I was a big [Colorado] Avalanche fan, so I’d always watch the Avalanche play at The Joe,” junior goalie Jordan Pearce said. “It’s going to be exciting to go out there and actually play on the ice myself, playing a top opponent with the Mason Cup on our minds.”

With both a conference title and, most likely, their spot in the NCAA Tournament on the line, the Irish know they need to play like the team that advanced to Detroit – not the one that almost gave the chance away.

“We control our own destiny,” head coach Jeff Jackson said. “I’ve been talking to them all week about the importance of trying to build a championship culture here, and we’re trying to overcome obstacles…. Everybody’s playing to get to the next level.”

Ferris State 2, Notre Dame 1

Notre Dame came out Friday night looking like a team that hadn’t played a game in two weeks – which it hadn’t. A sloppy, turnover-filled first period spelled doom for the Irish, who gave up two goals before even registering a shot on goal.

“It was really disappointing,” senior captain Mark Van Guilder said. “I think we were a little bit too jacked up before the game. We kind of hit a wall when we came out in the first period.”

Cody Chupp got the Bulldogs on the board first at 4:08 in the first period. After Cole gave up the puck in the slot, Chupp found himself all alone in front of Pearce, who had 26 saves on the night. Chupp proceeded to fire a snap shot that went over Pearce’s glove, off the crossbar, and into the net.

Ferris State managed to double its lead 4:24 later. After a flurry of shots on Pearce, Ferris State forward Justin Menke got the puck in the low slot and, with Pearce out of position, tapped the puck into the goal.

“The first ten minutes of the game were the difference,” Jackson said. “They were in much better game shape than we were and it showed.”

At 13:21 of the period, the Irish got first shot on Bulldog goalie Mitch O’Keefe, who tallied 25 saves in the game. Notre Dame generated some offensive momentum late in the period and, just 11 seconds before the first intermission, cut the Ferris State lead in half. With a 6-on-5 advantage due to a delayed penalty call, Irish forward Kevin Deeth carried the puck all the way up the ice and found forward Ben Ryan in the slot. Ryan slid the puck between O’Keefe’s legs to halve the Bulldog lead.

The late goal seemed to inspire the Irish, who looked like a completely different team after the first intermission. Notre Dame began to create sustained offensive pressure but had several good scoring chances foiled by O’Keefe.

“I thought tonight [O’Keefe] did a really good job,” Bulldogs coach Bob Daniels said. “Especially those couple of spurts in the second and in the third when they carried the edge in play.”

With just over 11 minutes to play in the second, Ben Ryan appeared to tie the game for Notre Dame. After the puck was knocked down by a Ferris State high stick, Ryan controlled the puck in the slot and quickly fired a shot past O’Keefe. But the referee had blown the play dead on the high stick.

Jackson was visibly upset with referee Keith Sergott, but to no avail; the goal did not count, and the Irish still faced a 2-1 deficit.

For the remainder of the game, Ferris State settled into a very tough defensive style, and the Irish only managed a handful of scoring chances for the rest of the night.

Notre Dame 6, Ferris State 3

In a tilt that saw 33 penalties called, Notre Dame defeated Ferris State handily to even the series at 1-1.

“It was a very chaotic game, to say the least.” Jackson said. “But that’s the hardest we’ve competed in a while.”

Notre Dame took a 1-0 lead 9:53 into the period thanks to a 4-on-4 goal from freshman forward Calle Ridderwall. After corralling a Van Guilder rebound, Ridderwall deked around O’Keefe and sent a backhander over the goalie’s stick and into the net.

“He’s been coming and coming and coming,” Jackson said of Ridderwall. “Calle’s gotten better in the last two months and hopefully he’s going to be a huge part of our team in the future.”

Despite a combined six power plays in the period, neither team lit the lamp, and the Irish went into the locker room with a 1-0 lead.

However, at 7:15 of the second, Cole gave Notre Dame a 2-0 lead. Cole executed a give-and-go with defenseman Kyle Lawson, and then unleashed a snap shot into the top corner of the net.

Ferris State cut the lead to 2-1 at 11:11 of the period on a Mike Fillinger power play goal, and tied the game at 13:29 thanks to junior Corey Couturier.

The Irish responded quickly and, at 16:54 of the period, Cole took a pass from Condra at the right circle and shot over O’Keefe’s glove, off the crossbar, and in.

Condra and Ryan added insurance goals for the Irish, but Zach Redmond scored at 16:45 of the third to make it 5-3. Lawson capped off the scoring with an empty net goal at 18:24 of the final period.

Eighteen penalties were called against the Bulldogs and 15 on the Irish. Notre Dame had 10 power play attempts and Ferris State 7. Jackson refused to comment on the officiating or the fact that Sergott is a Ferris State alum and played for Daniels in the mid 90’s. Jackson said he thought the increased penalty count was due to a more intense style of play.

“It’s an emotional environment,” Jackson said. “But we have to make sure that our discipline’s better tomorrow night.”

Notre Dame 2, Ferris State 1

Thanks to Pearce’s 24 saves and goals from Kissel and Cole, the Irish took the rubber match, never trailing in the contest that earned them the right to defend their CCHA title.

Kissel got the Notre Dame offense started quickly, scoring just two-and-a-half minutes into the opening period. Ruth belted a slapshot from the point that forced O’Keefe to leave the entire right side of the net exposed, and White found Kissel, who put it home for a 1-0 lead.

The Bulldogs struck back less than two minutes later on a four-on-four situation. O’Keefe stuffed two Irish chances, and Ferris State caught the Irish offguard as right wing Justin Lewandowski received an outlet pass up the left side before dishing it off to center Adam Miller, who came across Pearce’s face and beat the Irish netminder to the inside post.

“After that first goal, I’d say the puck got a lot bigger,” Pearce said. “I knew I couldn’t let up any more if we wanted to win, so I had to bear down and do what I had to do to keep the puck out of the net.”

Later, a scrum occurred in front of the Ferris State net that put a player from each team into the box. Just as the resulting four-on-four ended, Condra was checked hard at center ice, where he remained for a few seconds before being helped off, and he did not return.

After the Bulldogs’ next shot went wide, the Ferris State shooter’s skate connected with Pearce’s mask, causing a fight inside the Irish net.

With two minutes to play in the first, a Ridderwaal goal was waved off. Jackson said the referees told him the replay official showed the officials the wrong replay, creating the confusion.

Less than a minute into the second, Cole scored what would prove to be the game-winner after receiving a set-up from Ryan and Lawson in the middle of the Ferris State zone. With a clear path to the net in front of him, Cole delivered a hard wrister that beat O’Keefe stick-side for a power play goal and a 2-1 advantage.

“It was really just kind of a broken play,” Cole said. “Afterwards, it was unbelievable, especially being tied like that. It was one of those things you dream about as a kid, stepping up and scoring the game-winning goal.”