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Hockey: No. 8 Notre Dame gains spot in NCAA tournament

Sam Gans | Tuesday, March 22, 2011

DETROIT — Despite a disappointing performance at the CCHA tournament this weekend in Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena, No. 8 Notre Dame had a strong enough season to gain a spot in the 16-team NCAA tournament field.

The Irish earned a No. 3 seed in the Manchester, N.H., region and a first round game against No. 2 seed Merrimack Saturday night.

“[Merrimack coach] Mark Dennehy’s done a great job there,” Irish coach Jeff Jackson said. “They play an up-tempo style, they have really good special teams, they seem to be a high-energy team and they’ve got some really talented kids on that team, too.”

Should the Irish get past the Warriors, a familiar foe could be on deck. Fellow CCHA member Miami is the No. 1 seed in the region, with a game against No. 4 seed New Hampshire.

If a Notre Dame vs. Miami matchup comes to fruition, the Irish will hope it turns out better than the conference semifinals did this past Friday.

Notre Dame (23-13-5, 18-7-3-2 CCHA) got off to a rough start against the eventual CCHA tournament champion RedHawks (23-9-6, 16-7-5-2) in a 6-2 defeat. First team All-CCHA member Carter Camper got Miami on the board 4:52 into the game. Less than 10 minutes later, Camper scored the fourth goal of the game for the RedHawks. Miami ended the first period leadimg 4-0 and Notre Dame finished the first 20 minutes with only two shots.

“I thought [Miami] put a lot of pressure on us,” Jackson said. “Their skill and speed forced us to turn a lot of pucks over and you can’t do that against a team like that, because they transition so well offensively and they have so many great weapons.”

The Irish scored early in the second when freshman center T.J. Tynan’s shot bounced off the skate of junior right wing Billy Maday into the net for Maday’s eighth goal of the season. But CCHA Player of the Year Andy Miele responded quickly for the RedHawks, making the margin four goals again. Though senior left wing Calle Ridderwall kept the Irish in it with a late second period goal, Miele struck again early in the third for the final margin, sending Irish starting sophomore goalie Mike Johnson to the bench to be replaced by freshman Steven Summerhays.

“They’re a skilled team,” senior defenseman and captain Joe Lavin said. “When you give a skilled team time and space, they’re going to make plays.”

The Irish faced another skilled team the following night in the CCHA third place game in No. 6 Michigan.

Notre Dame came out strong against the Wolverines (26-10-4, 20-7-1-0) when sophomore center Riley Sheahan backhanded the puck into the goal after it bounced off the referee. But even with the fast start and a final shot advantage of 44-23, the Irish dropped a 4-2 decision.

“I was pleased with our team’s effort tonight,” Jackson said. “I thought we played a much more complete game. We weren’t as high-risk with the puck and I thought we played well without the puck. It was just a matter of their goaltending outperforming ours.”

Jackson made two notable strategic changes and both seemed to have positive effects early. Summerhays was awarded the start in net and the duo of Tynan and fellow freshman forward Anders Lee was broken up to increase line depth.

But it wasn’t enough, as Michigan roared ahead when Louie Caporusso and Carl Hagelin scored 15 seconds apart late in the first period. Jeff Rohrkemper later put the Wolverines up 3-1 in the third period when he sneaked the puck past Summerhays as the netminder was trying to smother it.

Though Tynan added his 22nd goal of the season with less than two minutes left to make things interesting, Luke Glendening iced the game with an empty-net goal.

Although the result was not what the Irish were hoping for on the weekend, Jackson is now looking ahead.

“We’re not going to Manchester to lose. It’s going to be a challenge, but we have to refocus. [Seniors] Ben Ryan, Calle Ridderwall, and Ryan Guentzel have all been to the Frozen Four — and it came off two losses in Detroit.”