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Irish named top team in the country after weekend sweep

Dan Murphy | Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Notre Dame has reached the top again.

With a pair of wins over Western Michigan this weekend the Irish moved to No. 1 in the polls for the first time since the end of the 2006-07 season.

“It’s all well and good,” Irish coach Jeff Jackson said. “Polls are polls, I didn’t really discuss it with [the team]. I want them to focus on the process not on where they are ranked.”

Notre Dame entered the weekend just behind Minnesota in the national rankings. A loss and a tie from the Gophers were enough to drop them behind the Irish who received 33 of 34 first place votes.

The team improved its unbeaten streak to ten games, but it didn’t come easily. Western Michigan took the Irish to their second sudden death shootout of the season Saturday night before senior captain Erik Condra scored the game-winner. The shootout victory was the second of the season for Notre Dame in as many tries.

Senior forward Christian Hanson got the scoring started midway through the first period when he snuck behind the Bronco defense and buried his team-leading ninth goal of the season. Christiaan Minella and Garrett Regan both picked up assists on the play.

Not to be outdone, freshman Bill Maday netted his ninth of the season only three minutes later on the power-play to give his team an early 2-0 lead.

“[Hanson and Maday] are playing with a lot of confidence. Once they start feeling good about their game they start playing even better,” Jackson said.

Western Michigan then took over with three unanswered goals from Patrick Galivan, Tyler Ludwig and Max Campbell. Jackson said he felt his team lost the momentum quickly, giving the Broncos a 3-2 lead heading into the final period. In the locker room between periods, Jackson said he called out his upperclassmen to take over. They responded.

Six minutes junior Ryan Thang, who has had a slow start to the season, tied the game with a power-play goal. The Irish had several chances late in the game but Western Michigan goalie Jerry Kuhn managed to stop them all. Kuhn finished the game with 35 saves.

After a scoreless overtime period, they moved into a shootout. Western Michigan scored early and Maday and sophomore Calle Ridderwall both missed their chances. Jackson decided to move Thang to the third spot because of his play late in the game and the move paid off. Thang buried his shot to send things to sudden death.

“Tbe shootouts are kind of a feeling out process at this point. I went in with a certain order of guys I would use, but I changed that based on the way we were playing late in the game,” Jackson said.

Two shooters later Condra stepped up and finished things off for the Irish.

Friday night was a little bit easier for Notre Dame. The team skated to a 4-1 win while going four-for-four on the power-play.

Western Michigan’s Campbell got things started with his first of two goals in the series halfway through the first period.

Junior Kevin Deeth answered late in the period with his third goal of the year. Deeth’s unit which also includes Hanson, Ridderwall, Maday and Brett Blatchford was on the ice for all of Notre Dame’s goals.

“There is no question they have had a lot of success over the past couple weeks,” Jackson said. “Teams are going to start looking for ways to shut them down, so the are going to have to be ready to make adjustments.”

Ridderwall picked up the next two goals in the second period and Maday rounded out the scoring in the third. Ridderwall had four points in the game adding two assists to his pair of goals. Hanson also had three assists in the game.

The Irish will defend their No. 1 spot this weekend in Big Rapids, Mich. with a pair of games against Ferris State.