Thomas DiPauli had three assists on Saturday and two goals on Sunday, including the game-winner.

Irish Extra: Irish Hang Tough and Advance in Hockey East

March 10, 2015

Spring break for University of Notre Dame students couldn’t have come at a better time for Cal Petersen.

It meant the freshman goaltender for the Fighting Irish hockey team could spent some extensive time with his pillow after a best-of-three series that was more like a five-game series in actual on-ice minutes.

Petersen spent nearly six hours in goal during Friday’s five-overtime game against Massachusetts in Hockey East first-round action. It turned out to be the longest game in NCAA Division I hockey history, one the Irish lost 4-3. Petersen made an NCAA-record 87 saves in the game.

Friday night’s game stretched into Saturday, ending at 1:30 a.m. Petersen was in goal again Saturday night at 7 p.m. He had 22 saves in a 5-3 victory that kept the Irish from elimination in the best-of-three series.

By the time Petersen wrapped up a shutout in Sunday’s 7-0 Irish romp that clinched the series, he was planning on spending the bulk of Monday resting.

“Maybe I’ll do a couple of laps around the dorm when I wake up, but other than that I think I’m going to have my feet up for a while,” Petersen laughed after Sunday’s game. “My legs are kind of feeling it a little bit.”

Petersen stopped a whopping 132 shots in the three-game series. The series victory propelled the Irish into the quarterfinals of the Hockey East tournament. The No. 5-seeded Irish play at No. 4 seed Massachusetts-Lowell in another best-of-three series that starts Friday.

Despite the gut-wrenching five-overtime loss, Jeff Jackson’s Irish answered the horn on Saturday and Sunday, a tribute to the resolve and resources of Notre Dame.

“Credit to our equipment staff, strength coach and our trainer–Dave Gilbert, Tony Rolinski and Kevin Ricks,” Petersen said. “Literally, from the time we stepped into the locker room, they had everything planned out for us, everything we were supposed to take for recovery, everything that we were supposed to do to make sure we were in top shape.

“It obviously showed Saturday and Sunday. We were the most conditioned team on the ice. All the credit goes to (Ricks, Gilbert and Rolinski). Some of the guys wanted to kick up and rest, but they forced us to get the lactic acid out, make sure we were being pros on and off the ice and do our best on Saturday and Sunday.”

Thomas DiPauli supplied the firepower that ignited the Irish barrage in Sunday’s elimination game. He fired off a wrister from the blue line just 48 seconds into the game that found net. DiPauli made it 2-0 for the Irish at the 6:42 mark of the second period with another long-range shot. Peter Schneider and Andy Ryan picked up the assists on both of DiPauli’s goals. Ricks, Gilbert and Rolinski picked up the credit.

DiPauli said the conditioning with Rolinski in particular played a key role in Notre Dame fighting back from the five-overtime setback to stay strong for the wins in Game 2 and Game 3 against UMass.

“It may not have even been a bad thing (to play five overtimes), because they got extremely tired,” DiPauli said of UMass. “It was pretty obvious (Saturday and Sunday) that they didn’t have the legs and we did. It could have been a good thing that it went that many overtimes. We’re well conditioned because of ‘T-Ro.’ We had adversity, but we knew we were going to win this series.”

Jackson said character and conditioning were key factors.

“It’s a test of their character, because it wasn’t just the length of the game, but losing the game is deflating,” Jackson said of his players. “For them to come back and do what they did Saturday and then come back Sunday and win it in three, it shows a lot of guts. We’ve got a lot of guys who are tired and dinged up. It’s a positive for us that we could take advantage.

“It started showing up Saturday night in the third period, the result of our conditioning, what our strength coach and our nutritionist and our trainers do. What we do here on a daily basis all plays into making sure we’re prepared to handle what we handled on Friday night and still be walking the next day. Credit goes to our athletic department for having put things in place allowing for us to be successful.”

Notre Dame’s series victory continues an Irish late-season surge. The Irish finished the regular season winning five games and tying two in the final nine contests. The Irish were 3-2-1 against a season-ending Hockey East murderer’s row–top 10 teams Providence, Boston University and Boston College.

Petersen’s hot goaltending has made the Irish a dangerous team. Petersen said he is benefiting from a defense-first mindset by the Irish. He has taken over the goaltending duties in the second half of the season and is using his experience from a brilliant United States Hockey League playoff run last season.

Now, Petersen is teamed up with Jackson, and he is honing is craft on the ice by sharpening his skills as a student of the game.

“I’ve always really prided myself on being a student of the game,” Petersen said. “That’s something I brought with me here to Notre Dame. I think the biggest thing is I’ve found a coach (Jackson) who is able to share that and is able to help me nurture that and help me look at my game and be able to sit with me and see what I can do better. It’s about things I’ve been doing well and things I need to pick up going into the next opponent. I think it’s always been big for me to be a student of the game, and it’s a huge advantage to have a coach who shares that with me and is able to enable that and is aware of that.”

Jackson has seen a youthful Irish team grow up during the course of the season.

“You can see the growth of a lot of the younger guys, and not just the freshmen, but also sophomores like Vince Hinostroza and Justin Wade,” Jackson said. “There are a number of guys growing as players. That’s bright for the future. Our junior class has been extremely good this year. Obviously, Petersen in goal is a big factor. As we look toward the future, I think we’re going to have a pretty good hockey team in the next few years.”

What Jackson appreciates is that the Irish have shown plenty of toughness in dealing with adversity.

“It’s a matter of just having that intestinal fortitude, and we’ve had to learn some of that this year under fire,” Jackson said. “I think back to all those two-goal leads we had in the early part of the season. We’ve had to lose in order to learn how to win. These guys are still learning how to win in some situations. I feel a lot better about where we are right now, obviously, than earlier in the year.”

— by Curt Rallo, special correspondent