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Hockey: One and done

Sam Werner | Monday, March 30, 2009

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – If Notre Dame and Bemidji State played 10 times, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to think that the Irish would win nine of the 10. Saturday night, though, was that one time when the Beavers came out on top.

“If this was a best-of-seven, I’d take it,” Irish coach Jeff Jackson said after the game.

Bemidji State, the No. 16 overall seed in the NCAA tournament, scored the first four goals en route to a dominating 5-1 win over the No. 2 Irish.

“I don’t know how many times I got asked this week ‘Who is Bemidji State?'” Jackson said. “I think people know now.”

The Beavers got on the board early, netting the first goal just 1:42 into the game. Notre Dame senior goalie Jordan Pearce was attempting to clear the puck behind the net, but it took an awkward ricochet, and Pearce fell down trying to get back in position. Meanwhile, the puck ended up in front of the net and Bemidji’s Chris McKelvie was right there to punch it home.

“It just took a really funky bounce off the boards,” Pearce said. “I was trying to get back to the net and just caught an edge and fell down.”

Jackson said he thought the first goal might have had a lasting effect on Pearce, who made 14 saves on the night.

“That first goal threw him off,” Jackson said. “It took a funny carom of the boards and it got caught between his stick and his pads.”

The Beavers doubled their lead less than 10 minutes later, at 11:03 of the first period. On the powerplay, Bemidji State’s Brad Hunt broke his stick on an apparent flubbed shot from the point, but the puck bounced off Beaver forward Tyler Scofield’s skate and past Pearce.

The 2-0 deficit was a familiar place for the Irish, who trailed Michigan by the same score in last Saturday’s CCHA Championship game. Last week, Notre Dame rallied to a 5-2 win. Jackson, though, said that he could tell that there was a difference in how his team was playing.

“I think last week when we were down 2-0, I didn’t feel like we were down 2-0,” he said. “Tonight I felt like we were down 2-0.”

The Irish were able to threaten late in the first period, putting pressure on Beavers goalie Matt Dalton, but couldn’t put the puck in the net, and went into the first intermission down 2-0.

Despite some close Irish chances, the Beavers extended their lead to 3-0 13:19 into the second stanza, when a wrist shot from Bemidji State’s Ben Kinne trickled through Jordan Pearce’s legs.

“I thought the third one was a back-breaker,” Jackson said. “That kid (Pearce) has been unbelievable for us this year, so in that situation it’s no different than when anyone gets thrown off their routine first thing in the morning. It kind of rattles your day.”

Down 3-0 heading into the second intermission, things were already looking bleak for the Irish, and Bemidji’s Matt Read almost sealed the deal when, shorthanded, he took a feed from Scofield, skated up the ice, and fired a shot past Pearce from the right circle.

Notre Dame appeared to generate some momentum when junior Dan Kissel beat Dalton on a feed from Ryan Guentzel. Any Irish momentum, however, was put to rest when the Beavers killed off a subsequent Irish powerplay. Bemidji State held Notre Dame’s top-ranked man-advantage unit scoreless on the night.

“They had a great penalty kill and we just never got it going,” senior captain Erik Condra said. “Our best players weren’t our best players tonight, and that’s what you need to win in NCAAs.”

From that point, it was just a matter of time. Scofield’s empty-netter at 16:33 of the final period made the score 5-1, and ensured the Beavers a spot in last night’s regional final where they knocked off Cornell 5-1 to advance to the Frozen Four.

“I couldn’t be more proud of my players, our alumni and the people of Bemidji,” Beavers coach Tom Serratore said. “It was a great win for our program … A win like this was extremely gratifying.”

In the other locker room, Notre Dame’s seniors were forced to reflect on careers that started with a 13-19-4 campaign four years ago, but included two Mason Cups and a trip to the national championship game last year.

“We did some special things here at Notre Dame, and you’ve got to be proud of that,” Condra said. “Obviously we’d like to go a little bit farther, but it didn’t happen this year.”

Senior Christian Hanson said it took a while for him to realize that his career was actually over.

“To be honest, it didn’t sink in for me until I was sitting in the locker room, looking around, and realized I was never going to put on this jersey again and never play with these guys again,” he said.

Hanson and the other seniors, though, were confident that the steps they took over the past four years would ensure that hockey would have a bright future at Notre Dame.

“We’ve made some great strides for this program and I’m confident that the guys next year and the years to follow will definitely keep going and get that trophy that we couldn’t get,” Hanson said.