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Hockey: Freshmen stand out in gritty pair of games

Chris Allen | Monday, November 1, 2010

Over the course of about 30 hours, the No. 11 Irish and Western Michigan skated two hotly contested games in two different states, with the Irish winning one game and tying one game of a home-and-home series.

Notre Dame (5-1-1, 3-0-1-1 CCHA) won 3-2 at the Joyce Center on Friday night, and the two teams tied 2-2 in Kalamazoo, Mich. Saturday with senior center Ben Ryan netting the only goal in a shootout to get the Irish a shootout point.

The Irish stumbled early on in the first period of the home contest, played in front of a sellout crowd at the Joyce Center. Western Michigan (4-2-2, 0-1-1-0 CCHA) took advantage of a number of sloppy defensive plays in front of the Irish net to control the early play, taking nine shots on goal before the Irish could register their first. The slow start was saved by the play of freshman goalie Steve Summerhays, making his second start of the season. Summerhays kept Western Michigan off the board in the first period as the Irish struggled to get into the flow.

“I thought he did well,” Irish coach Jeff Jackson said of his freshman goalie. “He held us in there a few times because we were real sloppy to start the game. It looked like we had the B.C. hangover. I didn’t think we played very well in the first period.”

The play picked up after a scoreless first period, as the Irish fourth line opened the scoring when freshman right wing David Gerths netted a wrist shot from the right circle past Broncos sophomore goalie Nick Pisellini with about 12 minutes left in the second period. Western Michigan answered back a minute later with freshman Chase Balisy scoring his first career goal on a backhand shot past Summerhays.

The pace of the game was brought to a halt for a chunk of the second period as the two teams got into a few scuffles after the whistle as a result of the physical play throughout the contest. The biggest of the fights resulted in penalties for four players, including Irish senior captain Joe Lavin and freshman Stephen Johns, both defenders.

“Sometimes things just don’t go your way, and sometimes it’s ugly, but we got the job done,” Lavin said.

The Irish broke the 1-1 tie in the third period with the fourth line yet again providing the spark as freshman left wing Jeff Costello hit Gerths breaking down the slot for Gerths’ second goal of the game and a 2-1 Irish lead.

Jackson said he was pleased with the play of his young fourth line — which includes Costello, Gerths and classmate Mike Voran.

“I yelled at them this week because they were a little sleepy in practice at times, but they give us energy,” Jackson said. “They played extremely hard and scored a couple of key goals for us. They outworked our other lines. They were the guys in there battling and forechecking and they deserve a lot of credit for that.”

Though the Irish conceded another goal off a rebound to tie the game up, they scored the decisive goal of the game on a power play with around five minutes left in the game as senior wing Ryan Guentzel hit freshman center Anders Lee in the slot for the game-winning score.

After grinding out the ugly win in dramatic fashion, Lavin was thrilled with his team’s endurance and effort.

“We’re in great shape. We did a lot of conditioning in the offseason and during the season,” Lavin said. “I think, you know, thus far in the third period, I think we’ve worked harder than the other team. That’s really important to us, and we just need to make sure we sustain that for 60 minutes and throughout the whole season.”

The two teams took the ice again in Kalamazoo Saturday night, with the Irish and Broncos ending up tied both after regulation and after overtime 2-2.

Lee lit the lamp just over a minute into the game, but Western Michigan scored two unanswered goals before Costello found the back of the net for the first time in his career late in the second period to tie the game.

From there, the teams played over 28 scoreless minutes, including the entire third period and five-minute overtime period. Sophomore Irish goalie Mike Johnson stopped 11 shots in that span of time, and 31 on the game overall.

Ryan scored on the Irish’s first shootout attempt while senior captain Calle Ridderwall was stopped by Pisellini on the next Notre Dame attempt. Johnson, however, stonewalled three Bronco attempts to earn the CCHA shootout point.

In the end, Notre Dame earned five out of six possible points in a tough pair of games against Western Michigan. The Irish will return to action next weekend, traveling to Bowling Green for games Friday and Saturday at 7:05 p.m.