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Dances with Wolverines

Sam Werner | Monday, February 2, 2009

In two close games that lived up to their billing, the Irish split their weekend series with Michigan, falling 2-1 Friday night in the Joyce Center, and winning 3-2 Saturday night in Ann Arbor.

The split allowed the No. 1 Irish (24-4-3, 14-3-3-3 CCHA) to maintain their hold on first place in the CCHA, two points ahead of Miami (OH) with two games in hand on the RedHawks.

Friday night, in front of a packed crowd sporting “White Out” T-shirts, the No. 7/8 Wolverines (19-9-0, 13-7-0-0 CCHA) brought an end to Notre Dame’s school-record 20-game unbeaten streak. Despite the loss, Notre Dame sophomore right wing Ryan Guentzel said the big-game atmosphere got the Irish players more than ready to go.

“It was crazy,” he said. “Forty-five minutes before warm-ups the student section was absolutely packed. It got the players fired up, and it just shows how far this program has come.”

The teams traded chances in the first period, the Irish had the advantage in shots on goal, but Michigan generated more quality scoring chances.

The Wolverines finally broke through late in the period though, when Notre Dame senior center Erik Condra appeared to be tripped from behind, but no penalty was called. Michigan forward David Wohlberg picked up the loose puck and fed it to teammate Travis Turnbull. Turnbull beat his defenseman at the right circle and tucked a backhand shot under the post on Irish goalie Jordan Pearce’s stick to give Michigan a 1-0 lead at 16:59 of the first period.

Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson thought that play should have been stopped when Condra was pulled down.

“No question,” Jackson said when asked if he thought a penalty should have been called. “I went back and watched it on tape. They called the same penalty on Ian Cole later in the game.”

A goal immediately after an offensive zone faceoff from Wolverines forward Tim Miller 40 seconds into the second period doubled the Michigan lead to 2-0 and seemed to all but kill the once-raucous JACC crowd.

The Irish failed to take advantage of back-to-back Michigan penalties, and the score remained 2-0 with 10 minutes left in the second.

Soon after, though, Guentzel pushed the puck into the Wolverines net after a prolonged scramble in the crease, cutting the lead to 2-1 and re-energizing the Irish squad.

“I just closed my eyes and it went in,” Guentzel joked.

After the goal, however, Michigan went into full lockdown defensively. In what could only be described as a textbook road third period, the Wolverines allowed only five Irish shots in the final stanza, none of them threatening.

“It wasn’t really a shutdown effort,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “It was just one of those games where the puck took our bounces.”

Irish defenseman Kyle Lawson thought the Wolverines coach was just being humble.

“I think he’s being a little modest,” Lawson said. “That’s why he’s so good at what he does. They came in here and executed their gameplan better than we did, I think.”

Despite the loss, Jackson remained confident after the game.

“Sometimes losses are good for the soul,” he said. “It’s good to have a nice streak like that; it’s been good for the program. But at the same time it’s about us getting ready for the end of the season and games like this help us do that.”

The Irish got right back to work, starting a new streak Saturday, holding off a Michigan rally to walk out of Yost Arena with a win.

Notre Dame got on the board first after freshman right wing Billy Maday punched a Calle Ridderwall rebound past Wolverine netminder Bryan Hogan at 8:15 of the opening frame.

Junior right wing Ryan Thang made the lead 2-0 on a penalty shot goal at 4:03 in the second period. After being hauled down from behind by Michigan defenseman Steve Kampfer, Thang started the penalty shot moving wide to his backhand side, before switching to forehand and snapping a shot over Hogan’s glove. The goal was Notre Dame’s first on a penalty shot since Rob Globke’s in 2001.

A goal from Ridderwall at 12:50 in the second gave the Irish a 3-0 lead going into the final period.

No lead, however, is safe at Yost Arena, and the Wolverines refused to go quietly. A pair of power-play goals, the first at 4:27 from Aaron Palushaj and the second from Robbie Czarnik at 8:45, made for a tense finale in Ann Arbor. But despite being outshot 14-3 in the final period, Pearce and the Irish defense held strong. Notre Dame’s senior goalie finished with 36 saves on the night.

Despite the rink’s intimidating reputation, Notre Dame has won two of its last three trips to Yost Arena, and could easily face Michigan again in the CCHA Championship in Detroit.

The Irish return to action next weekend with a trip to No. 14 Ohio State.

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