March 25, 2007
Grand Rapids, Mich. – The 2006-07 Notre Dame hockey season will go down as one for the ages as the Irish set record after record in what became a magical mystery tour on the way to a 32-7-3 record. The ride ended on Saturday night at Van Andel Arena as CCHA foe, Michigan State, handed Notre Dame a 2-1 loss in the Midwest Regional Championship.
The Irish closed the season with the best record in the program’s history at 32-7-3 and served notice to the college hockey world that there is a new force in the college hockey world. Michigan State (24-13-3) now advances to the NCAA Frozen Four in St. Louis, Mo., April 5-7 where they will face Maine, from Hockey East.
Chris Mueller and Tim Kennedy scored power-play goals for the Spartans while junior Evan Rankin (Sr., Portage, Mich.) scored Notre Dame’s lone goal in the loss. The Irish were coming off a marathon, double-overtime game in beating Alabama-Huntsville on Friday night.
“Last night obviously had some impact on tonight,” said head coach Jeff Jackson following the game. “I think it worked against both teams. I thought that we were sharp in some areas, but not so sharp in others. Our defensive intensity was good but our offensive intensity wasn’t what it needed to be. There was just something missing and some of that goes to fatigue and credit to Michigan State because their defense blocked some people off.”
The regional championship got off to a slow start as the two teams tried to get a read on each other. Notre Dame had the first big chance of the night with 10:13 left in the first period. Freshman Kevin Deeth stole the puck in front of the Michigan State goal and deked Spartan goaltender Jeff Lerg to the ice before shooting. His shot somehow found its way into Lerg’s glove for the save of the night.
Less than a minute later it was Notre Dame goaltender David Brown’s chance as he found left wing Tim Kennedy coming down the slot. Kennedy went to his left and backhanded a shot that Brown was able to cover up.
The Spartans out shot the Irish by an 8-7 margin in the first period.
In the second period, the Spartans took control of the play. Defenseman Tyler Howells ripped a shot from the left point off the crossbar on the second shift of the second period.
It looked like Michigan State finally broke through at 4:34 of the second when an apparent goal by Jim McKenzie was waved off by referee Peter Feola. Spartans’ forward Justin Abdelkader was parked in the crease and interfered with Brown.
The reprieve was brief as Michigan State took advantage of an Irish penalty to Evan Rankin. Defenseman Chris Snavely fired a shot from the right point that Brown stopped. Chris Mueller grabbed the rebound and beat the Irish goaltender to his stick side at 6:04 for the 1-0 lead. The goal was Mueller’s 14th of the season.
“This whole game revolved around two things, face offs, which I knew was going to be a concern coming in and puck possession off face offs,” said Irish coach Jeff Jackson. “We’re a pretty good face off team but one team we had trouble with was Michigan State. And it was a huge factor in both goals. One led to a penalty and the other led to a goal. So both goals were direct results of face offs.”
The Spartans would strike on the power play a second time, this time taking a 2-0 lead at 5:59 of the third period on Tim Kennedy’s 17th goal of the season. Working the puck behind the net, Kennedy walked in front and tucked the puck between Brown’s pads and the post as he was leveled by Deeth on the penalty kill. The goal marked just the third time all season that Notre Dame gave up two power-play goals in a game.
“I think that on some of the penalties, we same some of last night show up,” said Jackson. “The penalties weren’t for lack of discipline, they were the step-behind penalties where they were able to get a step on our player.”
Notre Dame finally broke through on Michigan State goaltender Jeff Lerg at 14:52. Jason Paige moved the puck from the left wing boards to defenseman Brett Blatchford. Blatchford fired a shot on goal that went off of right wing Evan Rankin and past Lerg, cutting the lead to 2-1. For Rankin, the goal was his fourth of the season.
The Irish would get several chances in the waning moments as Brown was pulled for the final 1:15 of the game in favor of a sixth attacker.
On the night, Michigan State outshot the Irish by a 25-20 margin. Brown finished with 23 saves while Lerg stopped 19 shots for the Spartans.
Now the Irish look to the future as they lose eight seniors to graduation but the foundation has been started for years to come.
“They’re taking it pretty hard right now. There all in there crying,” said Jackson. “A year ago, some, but not all broke down at the end of the season. It means a lot more to play for Notre Dame now.”
** Defenseman Wes O’Neill and forward Ryan Thang were selected to the All-Regional Team from Notre Dame. They were joined by Michigan State forwards Tim Kennedy and Chris Mueller, defenseman Tyler Howells and goaltender Jeff Lerg. Lerg was the Regional Most Valuable Player.
** Notre Dame has now played Michigan State three times in the two schools hockey histories in postseason action and has won all three of them. In March of 1982, the Spartans handed Notre Dame a 4-1 loss in the CCHA title game. In March of 2000, Michigan State defeated Notre Dame, 4-0, in the CCHA semifinals.
GAME SUMMARY 1 2 3 - F#10/#10 Michigan State (24-13-3) 0 1 1 - 2#1/#1 Notre Dame (32-7-3) 0 0 1 - 1
ScoringFirst Period: No Scoring.Penalties: MSU: 2 for 4 minutes; ND: 2 for 4 minutes.
Second Period: MSU: Chris Mueller 14 (Chris Snavely, Ethan Graham), PPG, 6:04.Penalties: MSU: 5 for 10 minutes; ND: 5 for 10 minutes.
Third Period: MSU: Tim Kennedy 17 (Tim Crowder, Justin Abdelkader), PPG, 5:59; ND: Evan Rankin 4 (Brett Blatchford, Jason Paige), 14:52.Penalties: MSU: 1 for 2 minutes; ND: 3 for 6 minutes.
Shots On Goal:Michigan State 7 - 9 - 9 - 25Notre Dame 8 - 3 - 9 - 20
Goaltender Saves MSU - Jeff Lerg (60:00) 8 - 3 - 8 - 19ND - David Brown (58:45) 7 - 8 - 8 - 23
Power Plays:MSU: 2 for 7ND: 0 for 5