March 28, 2009
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Playoff hockey is unlike almost any other situation in sports, and even more so at the college level, where every contest in the NCAA Championship is like a Game 7, and a single bounce of the puck can significantly change a team’s fortunes.
On Saturday night, Notre Dame found itself on the wrong end of that bouncing puck, as the Irish fell behind upstart Bemidji State on a strange goal less than two minutes into the game and the Beavers carried that momentum to a 5-1 victory over Notre Dame in an NCAA Midwest Regional semifinal at Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids, Mich.
The Irish (31-6-3) were making their third consecutive appearance in the NCAA Championship and fourth in program history, with three of those four NCAA regional berths coming in Grand Rapids. However, for the second time, Notre Dame was eliminated in its first game at Van Andel Arena (as was the case in 2004), despite the fact the Irish outshot BSU by nearly a two-to-one margin (35-19).
The first Bemidji goal wound up setting the tone for the entire evening. The Beavers dumped the puck behind the Irish net, where senior goaltender Jordan Pearce (Anchorage, Alaska) came out to play it. However, the puck took a funny bounce off the back dasher, then caromed off the side of the goal and back into the crease at the right post. As Pearce scrambled to get back in his net, BSU’s Chris McKelvie came charging in from the right wing and chopped at the puck, muscling it over the line just 1:42 into the contest.
The Beavers (19-15-1) squeezed off three of their seven first-period shots in the opening five minutes, but after that point, Notre Dame seemed to settle down. The Irish got an early power play chance at 4:52 when Bemidji’s Chris Peluso was sent off for slashing junior right wing Ryan Thang (Edina, Minn.), but Notre Dame’s best chance was a high-slot wrister from senior left wing Garrett Regan (Hastings, Minn.) that BSU netminder Matt Dalton swatted away with his blocker.
Moments later, the Irish had a golden opportunity, as sophomore left wing Calle Ridderwall (Stockholm, Sweden) skated to the bottom of the right circle and whipped a tape-to-tape pass to freshman right wing Billy Maday (Burr Ridge, Ill.), who was parked on the doorstep at the left post, but Maday’s point-blank shot skipped wide of the right post.
That miss proved to be “doubly” tough less than three minutes later, when Bemidji doubled its lead at 11:03 of the first on the power play. With sophomore defenseman Ian Cole (Ann Arbor, Mich.) in the box on a hooking charge, BSU’s Brad Hunt cut loose a shot from between the circles that snaked through traffic, caroming off at least two players before finding its way through Pearce’s pads for a 2-0 lead. Tyler Scofield was credited with the goal, with Hunt and Brad Read earning assists on the tally, which marked just the sixth time all season that Notre Dame would find itself trailing after one period (and the first time by more than one goal).
The Irish came out with purpose to begin the second stanza and got a pair of good chances early in the period. Their best look came with six minutes gone, when Cole and senior center Christian Hanson (Venetia, Pa.) both got their sticks on the puck during a goalmouth scramble, but couldn’t manage to get it by Dalton. Seconds later, Regan was hooked by BSU’s Ryan Adams, putting Notre Dame back on the power play. Senior right wing Erik Condra (Livonia, Mich.) got loose in the high slot during the ensuing man advantage, but his shot was deflected wide by the Beavers’ defense.
Bemidji then got another “pinball” goal just past the midway point of the second period. Ben Kinne took a shot from up top that caromed through a crowd and got by Pearce for a 3-0 lead. Kinne’s linemates, Shea Walters and Ryan Cramer, picked up assists on the play at 13:19.
Notre Dame kept up the pressure, with Thang drives the left side and getting in on Dalton, but he was unable to control a rolling puck as he prepared to shoot (16:20). The teams then traded penalties late in the period, with Maday going off for interference (17:58) and then BSU’s Cody Bostock getting whistled for holding with 1.7 seconds to go, giving the Irish a power play to start the third period.
However, with momentum seeming to turn towards Notre Dame, Bemidji came up with a backbreaking tally, as Scofield poked the puck out of the Irish offensive zone, and Read raced by the Notre Dame defense to gather up the loose rubber, skating to the right circle and firing a slapshot high to Pearce’s blocker side for a 4-0 lead just 49 seconds into the third.
The Irish didn’t back down and finally broke through at 6:02. Junior defenseman Brett Blatchford (Temperance, Mich.) came over the blue line, dropped a pass to sophomore right wing Ryan Guentzel (Woodbury, Minn.), who saucered a pass from the right circle to junior left wing Dan Kissel (Crestwood, Ill.) on the left side, and Kissel buried his shot from the bottom of the left circle. It was Kissel’s sixth goal of the season, while Blatchford got his 25th assist of the year and Guentzel earned his seventh helper.
Just a minute later, BSU’s Matt Francis was set to the box on a holding penalty, putting the Irish on their fourth power play. However, Notre Dame wasn’t able to capitalize, while the Beavers were able to settle the puck and forced the Irish to chase them for much of the third period. Bemidji also gained a pair of power plays later in the third, both of which Notre Dame was able to kill off.
After the latter penalty kill, the Irish came out of the last media timeout with under four minutes remaining and pulled Pearce in an effort to pressure the BSU defense. Yet, the Beavers won an important faceoff shortly after the timeout and Scofield delivered the loose puck into the empty net for the 5-1 final margin (16:33).
Pearce finished with 14 saves in his final college game, while Dalton was credited with 34 saves in the Bemidji net. With the win, the Beavers advanced to the NCAA Midwest Regional final on Sunday night against third-seeded Cornell, a 3-2 winner over Northeastern in Saturday’s other semifinal in Grand Rapids.
— ND —