SOUTH BEND, Ind. — The Notre Dame Fighting Irish put together strong goaltending, timely scoring and outstanding penalty killing to produce their best performance of the season as they shutout the Western Michigan Broncos 3-0 at the Joyce Center on Saturday night.
Junior goaltender David Brown led the way with a 25-save shutout performance and he got all the offense he would need on goals from Wes O’Neill, Mike Walsh and Jason Paige to help the Irish snap a five-game winless streak (0-4-1) with their first victory since Nov. 11. O’Neill and Walsh turned in two-point nights with a goal and an assist and sophomore right wing Mark Van Guilder assisted on all three goals for the Irish.
The victory gives Notre Dame a 4-9-1 overall record and a 3-6-1 record in the CCHA while Western Michigan falls to 4-8-2 and 4-5-1 in conference action. The Broncos won the series opener 4-3 on Friday night in Kalamazoo, Mich.
“We really played three strong periods tonight,” said Irish head coach Jeff Jackson. “We controlled the tempo and did a great job killing penalties. This is the way that this team has to play to win.”
After a scoreless first period, Notre Dame broke through on Bronco goaltender Daniel Bellissimo on the power play just 1:46 into the second period. Josh Sciba’s centering pass from the right wing circle found O’Neill on the back door and the junior defenseman redirected it past Bellissimo for his second goal of the season.
While O’Neill’s goal was the lone tally of the period, the key to the game came at the 11:03 mark of the period when Tom Sawatske and Sciba were whistled off to the penalty box on the same play, giving the Broncos a 5-on-3 power play for a full two minutes.
Notre Dame’s penalty killers held Western Michigan to just one shot on the power play and killed it off. On the night, the Irish killed six Bronco power-play chances. It marked just the second time this season that Notre Dame has held a team scoreless with the man advantage. Jackson was quick to credit his penalty-killing unit for its strong play.
“There’s no question that the 5-on-3 was the turning point tonight, especially with the way we’ve struggled killing penalties this season,” said Jackson.
“You really have to give our penalty killers credit. They blocked shots, took away passing lanes and when he had to, David (Brown) came up with big saves.”
The Irish would build the lead to 2-0 at 5:59 of the third period with their second power-play goal of the night. O’Neill dumped the puck behind the Western net where Van Guilder kept the puck alive pushing it to Walsh who then carried it out to the left of Bellissimo and tucked it in the short side for his third goal of the season. The Irish would go 2-for-5 on the power play in the victory.
Notre Dame closed the scoring at 17:31 when Paige jammed the rebound of a Walsh shot past Bellissimo for his second goal in as many nights for the final of 3-0.
The Irish out shot the Broncos, 31-25, in the game with Bellissimo finishing with 28 saves on the night. Brown recorded his fifth career shutout in the game and his first of the season as he continues his strong play over the last six games.
“David has played well in recent games, but this may have been his best game of the season. He played with confidence, he handled the puck well,” said Jackson.
“Our defense played much better in front of him and took away scoring chances and when he had to, David made the big save when we needed them.”
The Irish also shut down Western Michigan’s Brent Walton after he notched a hat trick against them in Kalamazoo on Friday night.
“Playing at home helped us stop him tonight. We had the last change and were able to get the right people out there on him,” explained Jackson.
“Brock Sheahan and Chris Trick did a good job on defense against him and Jason Paige’s line played a strong game when they were out there.”
The Irish won’t get much time to enjoy the win, as they now get ready for a unique home-and-home series versus the WCHA’s Minnesota State Mavericks. Notre Dame travels to Mankato, Minn., for a Tuesday game on Dec. 6 with face off set for 7:35 p.m. (CST). The two teams will then meet at the Joyce Center on Saturday, Dec. 10 for a 7:05 p.m. contest.
Western Michigan is idle next weekend and will prepare for Northern Michigan the following weekend.