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Hockey: Irish remain in CCHA lead

Chris Allen | Monday, February 21, 2011

Going into their weekend series with Ferris State, the No. 10 Irish only needed one point between the two games to clinch home-ice in the second round of the CCHA playoffs. They got that point — and five more — with two strong goaltending performances from sophomore Mike Johnson and freshman Steven Summerhays and balanced goal scoring in a sweep of the Bulldogs in Big Rapids, Mich.

“I was really pleased with the way we played. I thought Ferris came out with a lot of jump on Friday night, gave us some real problems,” Irish coach Jeff Jackson said. “We turned the puck over a bit too much, but I thought we settled down and played extremely well after that.”

Though freshman goal-scorers Anders Lee and T.J. Tynan have powered the Irish offense in multiple games, the Irish sophomore class provided the offense in a 3-2 win Friday night — with goals from defender Sam Calabrese, wing Nick Larson and center Riley Sheahan. Without goals from Tynan and Lee — who lead the team with 19 apiece — the Irish relied on balanced scoring on the weekend.

“Those situations are going to happen. We need our other guys to step up. I thought that David Gerths’ line, with Nick Larson and Mike Voran, played extremely well on the weekend,” Jackson said. “I thought [senior center Ben Ryan]’s line and [sophomore center Riley Sheahan]’s line both contributed as well. So, this weekend was a little more about our depth.”

On the other end of the ice, another sophomore stood on his head and helped deliver Notre Dame the big win. Johnson faced 15 shots in a first period filled with puck miscues — and stopped them all. Jackson said Johnson’s performance helped the Irish stay in the game.

“Mike was stellar on Friday. Early on, we were a little bit loose with the puck,” Jackson said. “He played extremely well. I thought he did a great job of holding us in there until we got our feet underneath us.”

With the CCHA home-ice already clinched, the Irish offense struck early and often Saturday as goals from Larson, Gerths and a trio of seniors — center Ben Ryan, defenseman Joe Lavin and wing Calle Ridderwall — scoring goals in a 5-2 win that kept the Irish in first place in the CCHA standings. Summerhays got the start in goal and made a career-high 29 saves, underlining the dynamic situation between the pipes for Jackson’s Irish.

“I thought Steven played a good game. He hasn’t had as much work as much, but I thought he made some big saves at big moments,” Jackson said. “I was pleased with both efforts [from Johnson and Summerhays].”

Jackson said the two goaltenders, who have split time the past three weekends, will continued to be evaluated based on their play.

“It’s still a work in progress for me, because I’ve never really rotated goalies before. I think they’re both playing well. I think it’ll be a matter of seeing who’s playing well. It’ll just be a matter of making the decision when the time comes,” he said. “We’re getting closer to the playoffs; somebody’s going to have to step forward. If they’re both playing that well, maybe they both play. Right now I think Mike’s still the guy. He has that opportunity to show that he can win in the playoffs.

“In the meantime, Steven’s doing a good job of being prepared in case he does go in.”

With the win, the Irish are assured of a top-four finish in the CCHA, and the home-ice in the second round of the CCHA playoffs that comes with that finish.

“That’s one of our goals for the season, to finish in the top four of the conference and we’re guaranteed to be in the top two right now,” Jackson said. “I think that just gives us the week to prepare and maybe get some guys healed up a little bit. We can prepare for an opponent that we can somewhat predict.”

Heading into the final weekend series of the season against Western Michigan, the Irish hold a one-point lead in the standings over Michigan for first place, and Jackson said the team will play the series with a couple goals in mind.

“Our priority right now is to make sure we go into the playoffs playing well. If we win first place, that’s a real feather in the cap for this group of kids,” he said. “Being so young, I don’t think anybody would have given them that respect.”