ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Notre Dame scored early in each of the first two periods and matched every Michigan offensive punch with its own counterpunch to propel the Fighting Irish to 7-3 victory in a matchup of CCHA title hopefuls at Yost Arena Friday night.
Erik Condra’s one-goal, three-assist performance paced the Irish offense. Freshman defenseman Brett Blatchford added three assists to double his scoring output for the season.
“Condra’s a great player,” said Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson. “I thought he was a little bit hyper, actually. He does so many things well for us. I thought he was trying a little bit too hard tonight. He did some great things which he always does. He was trying to make plays and that’s what makes a great player.
“Brett’s been playing well,” said Jackson of his freshman defenseman. “Between Brett and Lawson, to put two freshmen together on defense, they have to be pretty good freshmen. And Blatchford — we knew he was going to play eventually when didn’t know he was going to play this well, this soon. He does so much good stuff with the puck He’s my kind of defenseman, a guy who can make good decisions with the puck.”
Each of Michigan’s three goals was matched by a Notre Dame answering tally, never more than two minutes after the Wolverines had scored.
“Our team has been kind of funny like that this year,” said Jackson. “It seems like when a team scores on us, we have the ability to come right back. It’s happened a number of times this year. I can’t say why. I think part of it is that our depth is pretty good, so we can come right back with another good line right after a goal. It’s an important part of the game. It’s a momentum goal. Our guys have been able to respond in those situations pretty well this year.
“I thought they had the tempo of the game early on,” continued Jackson. “We settled down a little bit. I thought we came out with a little bit of nervous energy tonight. They come at you with great speed. They’re the fastest team we’ve played, by far, this year”
The importance of the game had ramifications beyond just the two points in the standings, according to the Notre Dame coach.
“Getting a game against Michigan is invaluable for our team’s confidence,” said Jackson.
“This team’s had a tough go against Michigan for the last two or three years, maybe even a lot longer than that,” he pointed out. “It’s important for our team just to know that we can play with them. We have to learn to be able to skate with them a little bit more. It’s important just to play this game and have success tonight. We’ll worry about Sunday when the day comes.”
“I have to give Notre Dame credit,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. They took advantage of their chances. From our perspective, we gave up goals too easily.
“It was a nightmare of a game,” he continued. “We played against a team that is very stingy defensively and here we are allowing goals to go through easily. Then, we’re trying to battle back against the best defensive team in the country.”
The loss extended Michigan’s streak of defensive woes to four games, during which it has allowed a total of 26 goals, five or more in each of those four contests.
“It is pretty embarrassing,” said Michigan captain defenseman Matt Hunwick of the four-game defensive swoon. We set a number that we want for goals against in 10-game segments, and I think that it might have been 24 or 26. To give up that many goals in four games — well, you are not going to win many of those.”
Despite being outshot by a 9-5 margin, Notre Dame scored both early and late in the first period to open a 2-0 bulge over the Wolverines
Only 1:08 into the opening frame, senior Notre Dame defenseman Tom Sawatske took a pass from the corner from sophomore right wing Erik Condra and whistled a shot from the point past Michigan goaltender Billy Sauer.
Again, near the end of that period, the Irish found the net behind Sauer. With only 33 seconds remaining in the period. Garrett Regan flipped a rebound off a Blatchford shot from the point by the Michigan goaltender.
Michigan got an early goal of its own only 11 seconds into the second period when a loose puck at the half-boards bounced free to Wolverine Andrew Cogliano. The sophomore center took the puck alone in front of the net, whirled around and flipped a backhand by Notre Dame goaltender David Brown.
Condra answered Cogliano two minutes later, extending the Notre Dame lead to 3-1. With the Irish enjoying a four-on-three power play, Noah Babin’s shot from the point ricocheted out to Condra, who banged the puck by Sauer.
Wolverine Brandon Naurato used the rebound route to pull Michigan back within one, 3-2, when he converted on the second of two rebound chances Michigan had against Brown.
True to form, Notre Dame came right back only 74 seconds later. Josh Sciba deflected another Blatchford blast from the point by Sauer to squelch any momentum Michigan might have gained from the Naurato goal.
Ryan Thang added one more goal to the Fighting Irish total to send Notre Dame to intermission with a commanding 5-2 lead.
After Christian Hanson sent the Irish further ahead, 6-2, at 7:18 of the final period, Michigan pulled within three on Chad Kolarik’s power play one-timer from the slot at 13:54.
It only took the Irish 17 seconds to reply this time with Evan Rankin closing the night’s scoring.
With the victory, Notre Dame (13-3-1, 88-2-1 CCHA) leapfrogged Michigan (12-6-0, 8-4-0 CCHA) in the CCHA standings, setting up a crucial rematch when the two teams tangle again Sunday afternoon at Notre Dame’s Joyce Center.