SOUTH BEND, Ind. — The Notre Dame hockey team saved its best for last on Saturday night at the Joyce Center as they rallied from a one-goal deficit with three goals in a two-minute span for a hard-fought 3-1 win over the Alaska Nanooks.
Trailing 1-0 going into the final stanza, the Irish finally broke through on Alaska goaltender Chad Johnson as Ryan Thang (SHG), Brett Blatchford and Mark Van Guilder each scored in a two-minute span (9:14 to 11:14) to give Notre Dame its fifth consecutive home victory. Ryan Muspratt had the lone Nanook goal in a game that the Irish out shot Alaska by a 34-22 margin.
Coming off three consecutive losses to Alaska to end the 2005-06 season, including a 1-0 loss in the second game of the first round of the CCHA playoffs, things looked much the same through two periods as the Irish controlled much of the play.
“For awhile there, it didn’t look much different than last year,” said Irish coach Jeff Jackson. “Tonight we were just able to capitalize in the third period. They (Alaska) are a tough team to play against. They make it tough to get pucks through to the goal, to get rebounds and second chances. We were fortunate to break it open with a short-handed goal. That was a momentum goal that led to another goal a few seconds later.
The win improved the fifth-ranked Irish to 11-3-1 overall and 6-2-1 in the CCHA while Alaska fell to 6-3-4 on the year and 4-2-3 in conference action.
The Nanooks scored first on a goal that was credited after a referee review that wiped out an early Irish score.
Muspratt carried the puck down the right side for Alaska and ripped a shot from the right wing circle that appeared to go off the crossbar and rebounded to the top of left circle. While the Nanooks celebrated, the Irish raced down the ice with Jason Paige taking a shot from the slot that was deflected past Johnson by Garrett Regan.
Referee Matt Shegos went to the replay and awarded the goal to Alaska, wiping out the Irish score. For the junior the goal was credited at 8:56 of the first and was his second goal of the year. Trailing 1-0 after one period was also a first for the Irish who did not trail after one period in the first 14 games of the season.
“From the bench we could tell that it was obviously in the net,” said Jackson. “It must’ve hit the back bar to come out the way it did. But, that’s why they have replay. The tough part was that we turned around and scored the other way. That just magnified things even more.
The Irish kept the pressure on, but could not put the puck past Johnson. Through two periods, the Irish out shot Alaska by a 27-16 margin and had nothing to show for it.
“I thought we had controlled the tempo for most of the game. The only change we made in the third was using Ryan Thang on the penalty kill. We did that because we were down a goal and he took advantage of it,” said Jackson.
With a penalty to T.J. Jindra winding down, right wing Michael Bartlett carried the puck to the Nanook blue line and fed it ahead to Thang. The freshman right wing put his head down and drove to the goal, one-handing a shot through Johnson’s pads for his seventh goal of the season at 9:14.
“I got a pass from (Mike) Bartlett and went wide and faked a shot on goal,” explained Thang. “I got around the defense and just drove the net. I had one hand on my stick and just threw it at the net. It must’ve gone five-hole because I got hit and didn’t see it go in.”
From there the Irish wasted little time taking the lead when Blatchford scored 30 seconds later at 9:44 for his first collegiate tally and a 2-1 Notre Dame lead.
Regan and freshman Kevin Deeth moved the puck around on the right side of the goal and no one picked up Blatchford who moved up from the left point. His shot beat Johnson inside the left post, giving the Irish the lead.
Van Guilder closed the Notre Dame scoring just 1:30 later at 11:14 when he fired from the slot while being knocked down for his team-best ninth goal of the year.
“I was on my way down and I was just hoping that I got the shot through,” said Van Guilder. “When (Christian) Hanson jumped on me, I figured that it did. (Dan) Kissel made a nice play along the left wing boards, chipping it ahead to me. The defense was kind of standing still so I cut across the middle. I almost lost it, but got it back and got the shot on the net.”
From there, the nation’s stingiest defense, led by senior goaltender David Brown took over as they limited Alaska to just six shots in the final period. Brown, finished with 21 saves while picking up his 10th win of the season while Johnson had 31 saves for the Nanooks.
The two teams will meet again on Sunday night at the Joyce Center with face-off time set for 7:05 p.m.