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Irish get first CCHA wins

Sam Werner | Monday, November 3, 2008

At one point last season Notre Dame went on a 0-for-39 power-play drought. After last weekend’s 0-for-16 showing against Miami (OH), the Irish had many fans getting worried. Those fans can rest easy now.

Notre Dame netted five goals with the man advantage in 3-2 and 4-2 wins over Northern Michigan in Marquette, Mich., over the weekend. Irish coach Jeff Jackson said he thought the power-play outburst was due to good, old-fashioned hard work.

“I thought our guys played with more determination in and around the net,” he said. “We scored two or three goals that were right in the paint, right in front of the crease area.”

Notre Dame scored three power-play goals in Friday’s 3-2 win, getting scores from Ryan Thang, Dan Kissel, and Christian Hanson, and two more in Saturday’s 4-2 victory, from Kyle Lawson and Billy Maday.

“We moved a lot better, with and without the puck,” Jackson said. “We weren’t getting shots blocked as much, and we got a couple through that ended up being goals right off the shot or deflections.”

Jackson also said that while he was happy about the high volume of special teams goals, he was more pleased that they came when the Irish needed them most.

“The timing from the power-play goal is just as important, if not more important, than how many you score on a given night,” he said. “Like if you score a big goal to tie the game late in the game, or if you score a big power-play goal to go ahead late in the game.”

The Wildcats opened the scoring Friday night at 5:47 of the first period when Irish netminder Jordan Pearce allowed Tim Hartung’s shot to trickle through his legs and give Northern a 1-0 lead. The lead didn’t last long, though, as less than seven minutes later Thang blasted a one-timer past Northern goalie Bill Stewart to tie the game.

Kissel pushed in a rebound off a Brett Blatchford shot at 4:34 of the second period to give the Irish a 2-1 lead. Blatchford contributed on Notre Dame’s third goal too, as his shot was deflected in by Hanson.

Blatchford tallied four assists on the weekend, three on the power-play. Jackson praised the junior defenseman’s improvement running the offense with the extra man.

“We wanted him to develop into a better point man on the power-play and he’s worked at it,” Jackson said. “He was determined to prove that he could handle that kind of a role and I think he’s done a good job in doing that.”

Northern added an extra-attacker goal late, but could not complete the comeback.

Notre Dame started the scoring Saturday night at 5:14 of the first period when Lawson powered a shot from the right point past Stewart.

Three straight second-period goals from Maday, Ian Cole, and Calle Ridderwall all but put the game out of reach. Maday, a freshman, notched his third goal of the season, and is tied-for the team lead. Jackson said Maday’s second year in junior hockey helped him adjust to playing at the collegiate level.

“Billy could have come after his first year of juniors, but we thought it would be better for him and for us that he play another year, just to get that additional year of experience and get some confidence,” Jackson said. “We always knew he was going to be a talented player, but I think the experience of playing at a tougher, higher level has done a lot to make the transition a little bit easier.”

Northern added a goal in the closing seconds of the second stanza, and another at 14:58 of the third, but, once again, couldn’t finish the rally.

Jackson said he was pleasantly surprised his team came away with two wins against the Wildcats.

“I was extremely pleased,” he said. “I thought we played 60 minutes each night, I thought we played with a lot of determination and grit.”

The Irish improved to 4-3-0 overall and 2-2-0 in the CCHA. Jackson said that it was still too early to start worrying about conference standings.

“It’s awful early in the season to get too excited, just like after the Miami series it’s too early to get too down,” he said.

The Irish get back on the ice next Friday in a much-anticipated rematch of last year’s national championship game against Boston College. Jackson said he thought the two wins this weekend put his team in a good position going into that matchup.

“It gives us a little confidence, let’s put it that way, ” he said. “You find out a lot more when you’re playing top teams from other conferences. So I’m just glad that we had a good weekend so we go into this weekend with some level of confidence before we play such a high-caliber team.”