FORT WAYNE, Ind. — The No. 3 Notre Dame Fighting Irish, trailing 2-1 after two periods, capped off their third come-from-behind win in five games by notching three final-period goals, as they beat the struggling Northern Michigan Wildcats, 4-3, at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum in Fort Wayne on Saturday afternoon.
The win propels the Irish into a first-place tie with the Miami RedHawks, the latest in the season any Irish team has been in first place in school history.
Notre Dame, a team unaccustomed to trailing late in the game, used three underclassmen — Kevin Deeth, Christian Hanson, and Eric Condra — to notch three goals and garner the Irish their 15th victory of the season.
Notre Dame head coach Jeff Jackson was pleased with the performance of his team against a gritty Wildcat squad.
“They’re a tough team to play against,” said Jackson. “Northern is well-coached. They do little things well. They’re a tough team to play against. They make it difficult for you to make nice plays. They’re challenging. This was a good come-from-behind [win] for sure.”
“My biggest concern is always trying to make sure our team recognizes how good a team they are. They’re not in the top four of the standings right now, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be at the end of the year. They’ve got the potential with the way they play. They’re a tough team.”
In net, senior David Brown stopped 17 of 20 Wildcat shots in a satisfactory effort between the pipes. His key save came in the third period on a point-blank shot by Nick Sirota that Brown somehow kept out of the net.
“It was a tough game [for Brown],” said Jackson. “[Northern] goes hard to the net. They’re slashing and banging around the net. The bottom line is, he made a huge save when we needed it, or it could have been a two-goal lead. It’s not so much about giving up one goal or five goals, it’s a matter of making the saves to help us win the game, and he did that tonight.”
For the Wildcats, the loss marks six straight defeats. Northern’s last win came on November 18 against the Western Michigan Broncos, though not for lack of effort. Four of those last six losses have been by one goal, and have all come against ranked teams.
“That’s what has been happening to us lately,” said Wildcat coach Walt Kyle. “We talked to our guys earlier about work, and about playing the way we thought we needed to, and I thought we did a pretty good job.
“[Notre Dame] is a very good team, and they wound up taking the third period away from us. We had some chances late, but we weren’t able to put it in.”
The Wildcats got on the board first at 13:22 of the opening period. Freshman left winger Ray Kaunisto scored his first collegiate goal, directing a David Brown rebound into the net from just in front of the cage. The goal was assisted by Blake Cosgrove and Zach Tarkir.
The Irish tied things up at 16:22 on a Mark Van Guilder goal. Winger Garrett Regan backhanded a pass out to the right circle while falling down. The pass found the tape of Van Guilder’s stick to Bill Zanibonis left side, where Van Guilder wristed a shot through traffic and into the net to knot the game at 1-1.
Northern Michigan regained the lead in the second period, scoring the lone goal of the stanza. The Wildcats, taking advantage of a turnover at center ice, created a 2 on 1 chance going the other way. Senior Darin Olver, skating sown the right side, drove a shot off Brown’s blocker. The rebound came out to his left where sophomore Nick Sirota banged the puck home for his 6th goal of the season. The goal came at 6:07 goal of the period, and was also assisted by Andrew Saurer.
Notre Dame came out of the gate quickly in the third period, scoring two goals in the first six minutes of the period.
Freshman Kevin Deeth tied the game at 4:01 of the period on a strange goal. He fired a shot in on goal that hit a sliding NMU defenseman out front. The puck then traveled with the defenseman toward the net, where it slid past Zaniboni, who was trying to get back into position from an earlier shot. Tom Sawatske assisted the goal.
The Fighting Irish took the lead at 5:49 on their first power play goal of the afternoon. Hanson gave his team a 3-2 lead with a quick wrist shot from the bottom of the left circle. He beat Zaniboni for his 5th goal of the season.
NMU would tie the game just 17 seconds later. Freshman Jacques Lamoureux lit the lamp for his first career goal with a quick wrist shot from the right circle, beating Brown at 6:06 of the period.
Notre Dame tipped the scale back in their favor with just over six minutes to play. Deeth won the facoeff deep in the wildcat zone. He slid the puck over to Eric Condra, who blasted a shot through five-hole of the NMU goaltender for his 7th goal of the season.
NMU’s Bill Zaniboni made 31 saves on the afternoon.
Notre Dame ended the day 1 for 6 on the power play, while the Wildcats were shut out with the man advantage.
The teams will resume action tomorrow from the Joyce Center. Game time is set for 4:05 pm.