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Irish fall in St. Paul

Allan Joseph | Thursday, April 7, 2011

ST. PAUL, Minn. – Down 4-2 early in the third period of the national semifinal game and facing a red-hot Minnesota-Duluth power play, Notre Dame thought it had turned the corner when senior left wing Calle Ridderwall blasted a shot from just inside the blue line past Bulldog goalie Kenny Reiter to pull the Irish within one. It was not to be, however, as Reiter stonewalled the Notre Dame attack the rest of the way to give Minnesota-Duluth a 4-3 victory over the Irish in front of 19,139 fans at the Xcel Energy Center.

“It was huge, [and it gave us] momentum the whole [third] period,” Ridderwall said. “We were pressuring them down low in their zone. We had some shots, but we just couldn’t get them through.”

Notre Dame opened the Frozen Four with a bang as freshman left wing Jeff Costello beat Reiter glove-side just 49 seconds into the game to give the Irish a 1-0 advantage. Merely two minutes later, the Bulldogs scored the first of their three power-play goals to pull even. The tie lasted just six minutes, as freshman center T.J. Tynan found the back of the net, only to see his goal answered 66 seconds later on another power-play tally.

“That was kind of a crazy start,” Irish coach Jeff Jackson said. “Five-on-five I thought we were doing great, and then you put them on the power play and it certainly sets you back — not just from a score perspective but a mental perspective.”

The Bulldogs would open up a two-goal lead on the strength of a withering man-up attack and stalwart penalty-kill unit. Notre Dame did itself no favors, as Jackson’s squad struggled throughout the middle portion of the game before mounting a comeback effort in the third period.

“We played a good first half of the first period, and a good third period, but the second period killed us,” Tynan said.

Jackson said that the Bulldogs’ ability to quickly answer his squad’s scores wore down his team in the second period and gave Minnesota-Duluth the intangible advantage it needed to earn a trip to the national championship game.

“After Duluth scored the third goal, I thought we dipped a little bit emotionally in that our youth showed up a little bit,” he said. “I thought our body language got bad.”

In the third period, however, the Irish poured on the attack, firing 15 shots on goal compared to the Bulldogs’ two in the final stanza.

“I gave it to [the team] after the second,” Jackson said. “They came out and they responded, which they have all season long.”

Ridderwall was one of four seniors making his final appearance in a Notre Dame uniform, along with defenseman Joe Lavin, center Ben Ryan and right wing Ryan Guentzel. Though still stinging from the hard-fought loss just moments earlier, the graduating players were able to reflect on their standard-setting tenure, which included the program’s first-ever Frozen Four appearance in 2008.

“I’m just thankful for the University of Notre Dame giving me an opportunity to come here and be part of [the] program these last four years,” Guentzel said. “We’ve had a great ride: freshman year, playing in the national championship and then being able to come to St. Paul my senior year with the great crowd and great atmosphere.”

After a season in which the freshman-laden Irish far outstripped every expectation by qualifying for the NCAA tournament and then reaching the Final Four, the young squad came up just short in Minnesota after an inconsistent performance.

“I said it a few days ago — when you play in this event you have to play 60 minutes. Twice. And we didn’t,” Jackson said. “That’s really what it boiled down to.”

“The puck just didn’t bounce our way tonight,” Guentzel said. “Sometimes that happens.”