The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.



Hockey: Offensive struggles lead to split in Alaska

Matt Gamber | Monday, November 9, 2009

No. 9 Notre Dame split a pair of conference games at No. 13 Alaska over the weekend, handing the Nanooks their first loss of the season Friday, 3-2, before falling 3-1 Saturday night in Fairbanks.

“I actually thought we played a better game on Saturday,” Irish coach Jeff Jackson said. “Friday, even though we won the game, I thought we relied on [freshman goaltender] Mike Johnson in goal way too much. We gave them a lot of opportunities off of transition and didn’t do a good job with the puck. We were fortunate to score on the power play a couple times and got great goaltending, especially in the third period.”

Johnson, making the first back-to-back starts of his career, gave Notre Dame (5-4-1, 2-1-1 CCHA) a chance to win Saturday, but the Nanooks (6-1-1, 3-1-1-0) scored three times in the final period to erase a 1-0 Irish advantage. Johnson made 35 saves Friday and 21 Saturday.

“I thought Mike played exceptional on Friday night,” Jackson said. “I think he made the difference in the game, especially in the third period to hold our lead. The goals that he gave up — the first was kind of a fluky bounce, almost an impossible shot to stop. The second goal could have probably been defended better by our defense. He was probably a little out of position, but the defense should been tighter.”

Christiaan Minella, Ryan Thang and Kyle Lawson notched power play goals in Friday’s victory, with Lawson scoring the game-winner with less than three minutes to play in the second period.

The power play has been the saving grace for Notre Dame’s inconsistent even-strength offense, Jackson said.

Of Notre Dame’s 23 goals this season, only 10 have come at even strength. The Irish have notched 12 power play goals and one shorthanded goal.

“The good thing for us is we’re having two different units being productive,” Jackson said. “That’s what we’ve been striving for over the last three or four years, to have more than just one unit. There’s certain nights that a top unit just gets shut down, and right now, having two playing well is really helping us.”

The power play was blanked Saturday, as junior center Ben Ryan’s second-period goal was the only Irish tally. Ryan extended his career-best point streak to seven in the loss.

“I’m hoping we bust out of this,” Jackson said. “We have too many players who have the potential to score goals, and unfortunately we’re just not fulfilling that right now. Some guys have started off okay, and it’s just a matter of getting other guys who have a history of being productive, to get them going and shooting the puck with a little more confidence.”

The uncertainty surrounding Notre Dame is not limited to the Irish offense. The Irish are still searching for the answer to their goaltending question, as Jackson said Johnson played well this weekend. Both Johnson and junior Brad Phillips, who was expected to be Notre Dame’s No. 1 goaltender, have the tools but need to show more consistency to earn the top spot, Jackson said.

“I still think as time progresses, Brad is going to get better. I want to see him grow,” Jackson said. “I want to go into the second half of the season with a pretty good idea who our starter’s going to be. And maybe it’ll be two guys.”

For now, though, Johnson has played his way into the conversation — and into the net.
“We have to recognize, he’s a freshman, too,” Jackson said. ” I’m gaining a lot of confidence in him right now. I like his character and I like how he competes. He’s really put himself in the mix to be the number one guy, and it’s just a matter of whether Brad can get his confidence back up to a high enough level.”