OMAHA, Neb. — The Notre Dame Fighting Irish got goals from Jon Maruk and Evan Nielsen and goaltender Morgan Cey did his best impression of a brick wall while making 30 saves to lead the Irish to a 2-1 win over the Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks Sunday night at a sold-out Omaha Civic Auditorium.
The win gives Notre Dame the best-of-three playoff series two games to one and sends the Irish to the CCHA’s Super Six at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.
Notre Dame made its last appearance at Joe Louis Arena in the CCHA finals following the 1999-2000 season. The Irish will play at 4:00 p.m. on March 15 versus the league’s number three seed Northern Michigan.
The hard-fought 2-1 win gives the Irish a victory in seven of their last eight games and improves them to 16-16-5 on the year. Nebraska-Omaha’s season comes to an end with a 21-16-4 record.
The Mavericks scored the opening goal of the night off a scramble in front of Cey. Kyle O’Keefe centered a pass from the left wing corner that Cey tried to cover with his glove. The puck came loose in front and David Brisson was there to poke the puck through a maze of sticks and skates for his 10th goal of the season at 6:42.
Things did not bode well for the Irish since they were 0-10-3 when giving up the first goal of a game on the season – at least until Sunday night.
Notre Dame had three power play chances in the first period. The second almost resulted in a Nebraska-Omaha goal and the third turned into an Irish power play goal.
With OKeefe off for slashing, Nick Fohr was sprung loose at center ice for a breakaway chance on Cey. The 6-3, 174-pound goaltender threw out his right pad to steer Fohr’s scoring bid into the right wing corner.
Just seconds later Cey turned away defenseman Greg Zanon who had a two-on-one scoring chance.
The Irish got things corrected on their next power play chance and tied the game at 19:56 of the first period. Connor Dunlop carried the puck along the left wing boards and sent a pass to John Wroblewski who was parked on the left post.
Maverick goaltender Dan Ellis kicked that shot out, but Jon Maruk was there to slam the rebound home for his third goal of the season to send the game to the first intermission tied at one.
The two teams tightened things defensively in the second period, but the Irish managed to take a 2-1 lead late in the stanza.
With a face off in the Maverick zone to the right of Ellis, Jake Wiegand won the draw back to Brad Wanchulak at the left point. Wanchulak moved the puck across to the right point where Evan Nielsen fired a low wrist shot through a screen of players in front.
The shot beat Ellis to the right post to give Notre Dame the 2-1 lead. The goal was Nielsen’s seventh of the season.
In the third period, Nebraska-Omaha threw everything they had left at Cey, but the freshman slammed the door on the Mavericks hopes of returning to Joe Louis Arena.
Cey stopped all 14 shots in the period and the Irish were off to Joe Louis Arena for the second time in the last three years. An honorable mention CCHA all-rookie team selection, Cey stopped 99 of 104 shots in the series victory for Notre Dame.
On the night, the Irish were outshot 31-24. Ellis made 22 saves for the Mavericks to Cey’s 30-save night.
The Irish will join Michigan, Michigan State, Northern Michigan, Alaska Fairbanks and Ohio State in the Super Six. The two highest remaining seeded teams (Michigan and Michigan State) will receive byes on Friday, March 15th.
In Friday’s games, Northern Michigan will face the Irish at 4:00 p.m. while Alaska Fairbanks will play Ohio State at 7:30 p.m. The two winners will face Michigan and Michigan State on Saturday in games at 2:00 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.