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Hockey: Irish earn split with Broncos

Casey Karnes | Monday, February 25, 2013

No. 11 Notre Dame clinched third place in the CCHA with a split series against No. 8 Western Michigan this past weekend.

The Irish (19-12-3, 15-8-3-2 CCHA) gained a point Friday in a 3-3 regulation tie that the Broncos (18-8-8, 14-6-6-3) won via a 2-1 shootout advantage, but then the team responded by winning Saturday’s shootout 2-0 after the teams scored only one goal each in regulation.

Irish coach Jeff Jackson said he believed Notre Dame’s performance over the past two weekends against the top two teams in the CCHA bodes well the playoffs.

“I’m confident our guys are somewhat back on track after the tough month we had in January,” Jackson said. “It’s good for us to go to Miami and get a game, and basically come out of Western Michigan even as well.”

The teams were evenly matched all weekend, answering every goal with an equalizer. In Friday’s contest, it was the Broncos who started the scoring, taking a 2-1 first-period lead after goals by sophomore forwards Justin Kovacs and Will Kessel. The lone Irish goal in that period came from junior center David Gerths, and junior center Bryan Rust’s 11th goal of the season tied the game early in the second. After goals by Notre Dame’s forward Austin Wuthrich and Broncos’ freshman Nolan Laporte cancelled each other out in the third, the game headed to overtime.

Both goaltenders held their own in the extra period. While Broncos sophomore Frank Slubowski only allowed a shootout goal to Rust, Irish junior goalie Steven Summerhays let senior forward Mike Leone and junior forward Chase Balisy sneak shots by him.

Despite the result of the shootout, Jackson said he was confident in his goaltender moving forward.

“[Summerhays] has pretty much been our starter all year… and he’s starting to get his confidence back,” Jackson said. “He made a difference on Saturday, it was probably his best game in the second half [of the season].”

Summerhays was dominant at points in Saturday’s game, only allowing a first-period goal by junior forward Mike Cichy. Rust continued his big weekend for the Irish with another goal that left it 1-1 at the end of the first. The goaltenders played out the equivalent of a pitcher’s duel for the rest of regulation, and overtime ended without a goal for either side as well. The shootout was another story, however, as goals by Rust and junior center Anders Lee combined with Summerhays stalwart performance in the net to give the Irish a victory – and the two crucial points that came with it.

One of the keys in Saturday’s defensive clinic was the performance of the Irish penalty kill, a unit Jackson has been worried about in the second half of the season.

“Our penalty kill did a pretty good job over the weekend, we killed off all but one opportunity,” Jackson said. “Both parts of our special teams still need to improve… but this weekend penalty kill was better, and worked for us.”

The Irish only have a little time left to improve, as this weekend’s tilt against Bowling Green is their final regular season series. And after playing against top-10 opponents two weekends in a row, Notre Dame’s focus and energy will be tested by the young and talented Falcons. Regardless, Jackson said he isn’t worried.

“We can’t afford a letdown,” Jackson said. “We’re still trying to get into the NCAA tournament, and this weekend will be huge for that.”

The Irish will take on Bowling Green in their final home series of the regular season at Compton Family Ice Arena this weekend.

Contact Casey Karnes at [email protected]