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Hockey: Mile High Miracle

Ellyn Michalak | Friday, April 11, 2008

DENVER – With effective first period offense and a final overtime goal by freshman left wing Calle Ridderwall, the underdog Irish defeated Michigan 5-4, earning their first ever entry into the NCAA National Championship.

“I have a rich tradition in playing the underdog role,” Irish coach Jeff Jackson said. “The underdog thing is overblown. When you get to this level, the teams in college hockey are so close where anything can happen.”

Five minutes into overtime, Michigan goalie Bryan Hogan stopped senior center Dan Vanard’s shot on goal. Ridderwall scored off the rebound, earning his fifth career goal, and lifting the Irish to a 5-4 win in sudden death.

Entering the game with only three goals in his first season with the Irish, Ridderwall ignited Notre Dame’s offense five minutes into the first period. The Stockholm, Sweden native scored the game’s first goal off an assist from senior center Justin White and began a 3-0 Irish run.

A second goal followed 42 seconds later thanks to sophomore left wing Ryan Thang’s pass to senior right wing Mark Van Guilder, marking the senior captain’s 13th goal of the season and second of the NCAA Tournament. Thang scored the final goal of the period with 34.9 seconds remaining, flipping a backhanded shot over Michigan goaltender Billy Sauer’s blocker. The goal came near the end of an Irish penalty kill. Notre Dame owns the second best penalty killing unit in the country.

But despite the large early deficit, the Wolverines refused to stay down.

Just minutes into the second period, after replacing starting goalie Billy Sauer in favor of Hogan, senior wingman Chad Kolarik sparked the Wolverines offense with 11:12 remaining, scoring over the left shoulder of Notre Dame goaltender Jordan Pearce off a pass from senior center Kevin Porter.

Just 15 seconds later, freshman right wing Aaron Palushaj passed the puck to freshman center Matt Rust from the left corner of the ice, resulting in another Michigan goal and bringing the score to 3-2.

Both teams offense’s remained silent until just over two minutes into the third period when Michigan tied the game 3-3 from a second Kolarik goal off a pass from freshman wingman Max Pacioretty.

The Irish took the lead again with 8:30 remaining when sophomore center Kevin Deeth chipped a shot inside the goalpost past Hogan off a pass from sophomore wingman Dan Kissel. Michigan answered Deeth’s goal with 5:21 remaining – Rust earned his second goal of the evening and tied the game 4-4.

Ridderwall then added the winner in overtime.

Pearce saved 29 shots and improved his record to 23-14-4 on the season.

Notre Dame entered the game 0-2 in the series against the Wolverines for the season. The Irish narrowly fell 3-2 to Michigan with 20 seconds remaining during the season’s first match up, while the Wolverines dominated the second game, winning 5-1.

The Irish are set to play Boston College at 7 p.m. Saturday in the Championship game. The Eagles offensively dominated North Dakota earlier in the day nearly shutting them out.

“[Boston College has] a great offensive team. They turn that game around in a 3-minutes time span.,” Jackson said. “They’re going to be similar to Michigan in some ways. They have good depth, offensively. They’re going to be dangerous.”

The only Fighting Sioux goal came late in the third period, allowing Boston College to prevail, 6-1.

The Irish and the Wolverines competed in front of 18,544 fans, marking the sixth best attendance for a semifinal game of all time.

“We’re really happy. We’ll regroup tonight,” Deeth said. “We’re excited to be here, but we’re not done yet. We still have business to finish.”