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Hockey: Disappointing losses end NCAA hopes

Matthew DeFranks | Tuesday, March 20, 2012

A season that began with a preseason No. 1 ranking and a brand-new arena ended with a thud in the second round of the CCHA playoffs when No. 19 Notre Dame dropped 2-1 and 3-1 decisions to No. 2 Michigan on March 9 and 10.

On Friday night, Notre Dame (19-18-3, 12-13-3-0 CCHA) lost a double-overtime heartbreaker to the Wolverines (23-11-4, 15-9-4-1) despite sophomore goaltender Steven Summerhays’ career-high 40 saves.

“If we had won that game, there might have been a whole different end of the year,” Irish coach Jeff Jackson said. “We had plenty of chances to score the game winner but they did and we didn’t. That was a great game and we played well against them.”

Sophomore forward Anders Lee scored the lone goal for Notre Dame as Michigan redshirt senior goaltender Shaun Hunwick stopped 37 Irish shots.

Wolverines junior forward Chris Brown scored the game-winner for Michigan when he snuck a quick wrist shot past Summerhays to give his team a 1-0 series lead.
On Saturday night, Notre Dame fell behind 3-0 before Irish freshman forward Peter Schneider scored to cut the
Michigan lead to two.

Hunwick notched 25 saves in the series-clinching win for the Wolverines while Summerhays had 22. Summerhays started five of the final six games for the Irish and could have solidified a starting position next season.

“Steve Summerhays made a big statement about wanting to be the No. 1 guy here,” Jackson said. “I think that that’s one of the things that became more evident in the second half of the season. It’s always a competition but Steven made a big step.”

The Irish started the season hot, including an 11-game unbeaten streak and a win over No. 1 Boston College. After enduring a brief four-game losing streak, Notre Dame rebounded to notch big wins against two top-five opponents in Boston University and Minnesota.
“When it’s all said and done, I’m sure we will have a victory over whoever the national champion is,” Jackson said. “There was always that ray of hope that we were turning the corner. They kind of led me on a little bit. They teased all of us.”

Jackson said the turning point in the season was Notre Dame’s 3-2 loss to Western Michigan on Jan. 13.

“That was the beginning of the little losing streak we had,” Jackson said. “I think it was how that loss came into play. My frustration level peaked out at that point too by criticizing the officiating.”

After that game, the Irish finished the season 4-9, dropping from No. 3 in the nation to No. 18.

“I think we hit the low at the wrong time,” Irish senior defenseman Sean Lorenz said. “We peaked for big games and then we bottomed out at inopportune times and that was at the end of the season.”

The Irish return a strong core of sophomores next season, led by Lee, Summerhays and center T.J. Tynan. Jackson also praised Mario Lucia, Steven Fogarty, Thomas DiPauli, Andy Ryan and Sam Herr as incoming freshmen able to make an immediate impact.

“The talent level is strong and should be even better with the incoming freshman next year,” Jackson said. “There was some positives at the end of the year.”

Next year will mark the final season for Notre Dame in the CCHA. The Irish will move to Hockey East in 2013.

“Our conference is going to be just as tough or tougher next year by the looks of it,” Jackson said. “But that’s what makes it fun and yet challenging.”
Jackson declined to comment on the status of junior center Riley Sheahan, who may sign with the Detroit Red Wings, the team who drafted him.

Lorenz said he was hopeful to sign a deal with the Houston Aeros, a minor league affiliate of the Minnesota Wild, which will allow him to finish his degree at Notre Dame in the spring and play hockey at the same time.

Contact Matthew DeFranks at [email protected]