KALAMAZOO, Mich. — Behind senior net minder David Brown’s shutout Saturday night, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish will head home to South Bend with a 3-0 victory over the Western Michigan Broncos.
“We were all on the same page here tonight,” Brown said. “We had good communication; everyone was working in sync with each other and we were able to pull it together for the win.”
After Friday night’s 3-2 loss in the always exciting Lawson Ice Arena, the Fighting Irish (20-5-1 Overall and 14-3-1 CCHA) came out in the first period with a better sense of necessity of knowing what they needed to do to get the win.
“I thought we played with a better sense of urgency tonight,” said Jeff Jackson, Notre Dame Head Coach. “I think we were prepared to play last night, but I don’t think we were ready for the way Western came out at us like they did. We watched film and prepared our guys, but watching film and preparing for an opponent isn’t like playing them and it’s always different when you are in this type of environment.”
The first period was more of the same from Friday night’s thriller, with great goaltending by both Brown and WMU junior goalie Daniel Bellissimo, along with races for loose pucks and many scoring chances created on both sides of the ice.
One of those scoring chances came with less than a minute to play when sophomore winger Jeff LoVecchio sliced his way from center ice through the Irish defense, with his shot deflecting off the Irish net minder. The rebound, which was secured by Bronco freshman Mark Letestu, looked to be the first goal of the game by either side, but seconds before Letestu banged home the goal, LoVecchio was whistled for an interference call after he attempted his shot.
Heading into the middle period deadlocked at zero; the Broncos were able to eventually kill the Irish power play on the LoVecchio penalty for the first 1:26 of the period as both teams were 0-2 on the power play in the opening set.
Notre Dame was finally able to light the red lamp for the first goal of the game, on a Tom Sawatske chip in goal in the front of the Bronco goalie. Fighting Irish captain T.J. Jindra controlled the puck deep inside the WMU zone on the left side, and found the charging defenseman up the middle, who was able to knock home the eventual game winning goal.
With the game progressing each team was becoming tired and the flow of the game became non-existent as a string of five penalties were called on both teams in a span of two minutes. Those penalties, however only resulted in one power play opportunity combined.
“Both teams were a little slow as the game started to progress in the second period,” Jackson said. “The game got a little slow and methodical, but the kids kept battling hard throughout.”
Ending the middle period with a one goal deficit, WMU was tied with the Fighting Irish in the shots on goal category, an accomplishment in that as the Broncos were out shot 31-19 in their win Friday night.
“We battled real hard, we came after them aggressively both nights and I am extremely proud of our effort we gave as a team battling with a very good Notre Dame team,” said Jim Culhane, WMU Head Coach. “I thought both teams played tremendously all weekend, and we are just disappointed we can only take the one win out of it.”
Leading 1-0 in the final period of play, the Fighting Irish were able to add an insurance goal at the 12:42 mark by defenseman Brett Blatchford, who lined up and fired a bullet inside the blue line past the glove of Bellissimo, from a face off won by Justin White from the left circle out of a television timeout.
Less than two minutes later, Notre Dame was able to increase their two goal advantage to three on a Erik Contra two-on-one breakaway along the left side of the ice firing a shot at Bellissimo, who initially came up with the glove save but saw the puck slip out, falling between the pipes. Freshman Ryan Thang distributed the extra pass to his charging teammate for the assist.
“To me, that was as close to a playoff game that you are going to get at this point in the year,” Jackson said. “It was intense from the bench perspective, they were doing everything to block shots and both goalies played hard and well.”
Coming up with 25 saves tonight, Brown earned first star of the game as he earned his third shutout of the year, tying him for the CCHA lead this season.
“The defense played awesome here tonight,” Brown said. “The guys are great back there, we’ve a great core and I can’t do it without them battling for me every night. They are in the trenches, clearing the pucks and getting guys out of the way letting me see the puck.”
Though, the Broncos were unable to secure their first sweep of the season this weekend, the eighth year head coach Culhane said he is most pleased about their schedule so far this season, being able to get points every weekend but one so far this year in conference play.
As always an electric, energy filled place to play Lawson Ice Arena is, the Broncos were able to put up a great effort wise game against another top ranked opponent under the first sellout crowd of the year of 3,944 screaming college hockey fans.
“The secret to our success here in Kalamazoo against top ranked teams, is the environment,” Culhane said. “We have incredible support from our students and community. When you have electricity and energy in the building, its contagious.”
Brown agreed with how tough it is to play in a great environment, like this.
“The low ceilings of the building let all the noise ricochet off right onto the ice,” he said. “They have a great student section, and they definitely put pressure on us throughout the entirety of the game.”
With the loss here tonight, the Broncos will have a short turn around before their next game with the Ferris State Bulldogs, Tuesday night in Kalamazoo.
“The big thing I am most worried about is the short turn around,” Culhane said. “What we have talked about in the locker room is how pleased we are of our effort, but disappointed in the outcome. It will be important to take care of our bodies, and come out with the same intensity against Ferris St.”
The Fighting Irish will next play host to the Miami RedHawks who sit in second place in the CCHA, on Jan. 26 and 27.
“They are what they are for a reason,” Jackson said about his team’s upcoming opponent.
“They are probably as deep and balanced as any team in the country. It will be a tough series, I think it will be fun for us and may be one of the biggest series for Notre Dame all time.”