SOUTH BEND, Ind. — The Notre Dame Fighting Irish continued their strong second half play on Friday night at the Joyce Center with a big 4-1 win in the final weekend’s series opener against Alaska Fairbanks.
On Friday night, the Irish got their offense from different sources as Michael Bartlett, Evan Rankin and Garrett Regan staked Notre Dame to a 3-1 first-period lead before Tim Wallace capped the scoring in the third period. Junior goaltender David Brown stopped 18 of 19 shots in the game, allowing only a first period goal to the Nanooks Steve Vanoosten. In his last eight games, Brown has given up just 11 goals.
The victory ran Notre Dame’s unbeaten streak to five games (4-0-1) and improved the Irish to 13-16-4 overall but more importantly gives them an 11-12-4 mark in the CCHA, good for 26 points and a share of sixth place in the conference standings with Lake Superior. The loss drops Alaska Fairbanks to 10th in the conference standings with a 10-13-4 record, just two points behind the Irish. The Nanooks are 14-14-5 on the season.
“We got off to a fast start tonight,” said Notre Dame head coach Jeff Jackson. “We go into every game trying to set the tempo. We’ve struggled on Friday nights this season, so it was good to see us come out with so much energy.”
Notre Dame got on the scoreboard first at 4:43 of the opening stanza on Michael Bartlett’s second goal of the season. With the play in front of the Irish bench, Bartlett took a short pass and moved it to Erik Condra at center. Condra carried the puck into the UAF zone, leaving a pass for Bartlett who whipped a wrist shot past freshman goalkeeper Chad Johnson.
“We were in a line change and I got knocked down. When I got up Noah (Babin) moved the puck to me and I heard Erik (Condra) yell for it,” said Bartlett. “I just headed for their zone and Condra made got the puck back to me and I got off a good shot that went in.”
Alaska Fairbanks would tie the game at 11:47 when Vanoosten scored his first goal of the season when he fired a shot from the slot that would be the only puck to get past Brown in the Irish goal to even the score at 1-1.
Notre Dame’s fourth line of Regan, Tony Gill and Rankin contributed a pair of goals over the final seven minutes of the opening period.
Rankin would get his third of the season, the eventual game winner, at 13:06 of the first when he tucked a shot behind Johnson from the goal line in the right wing corner. Strong forechecking by Gill and Regan set up Rankin in the corner.
“Our line just wanted to come out and compete. We wanted to force the play deep in their zone and create some scoring chances,” said Rankin. “The goalie was off the post and left about three inches and I just fired it toward the net. It went in off the side of his pads. Tony (Gill) and Garrett (Regan) did a great job working it along the boards.”
Regan would get on the scoreboard at 17:55 off a Wes O’Neill set up. O’Neill picked up a loose puck at center and carried it in to the Nanook’s zone. As he crossed the blue line he fired a shot at goal that was blocked. The rebound went to Regan as he came into the zone and the freshman left wing wound up and fired a shot past Johnson for his third goal of the season. It also ended Johnson’s night as he was pulled in favor of Wylie Rogers.
“Our fourth line went out and created a lot of energy for us,” said Jackson. “I give them all the credit in the world for coming out and generating good scoring chances. The three of them (Regan, Gill and Rankin) play with a lot of energy and when they’ve played together in the past, they’ve made things happen.”
After a scoreless second period, Notre Dame would get the lone goal of the final period when Wallace scored with a nice move in front of Rogers for his 11th of the season at 3:49 of the period.
Mark Van Guilder intercepted an errant pass and slid it in the high slot to O’Neill who found Wallace all alone in front for the final goal of the night.
Both teams had 19 shots in the game with Johnson making three saves in 17:55 minutes and Rogers 12 in 41:51. Neither team scored on the power play as the Irish were 0-for-6 and Alaska Fairbanks was 0-for-4. Jackson attributed that to poor ice conditions.
“The ice was terrible tonight, worse than it’s been all season,” said Jackson. “They’ve had a lot of events in here (the Joyce Center) the last week or so and the heat has been up so the ice was bad. It definitely affected both team’s power plays. You can’t pass the puck when the ice isn’t very good.”
The Irish will look to sew up a home-ice berth in the first round of the CCHA playoffs on Saturday night when they face the Nanooks in the final regular-season game of the year at the Joyce Center. Game time is 7:05 p.m.