BOWLING GREEN, Ohio — The second ranked Fighting Irish survived a lackluster first period before putting things in gear for the final two-thirds of the game, downing Bowling Green, 2-1, at the BG Ice Arena, to complete a sweep of the Falcons.
Notre Dame’s win coupled with a Nebraska Omaha tie against Michigan State tonight clinched a first-round bye for the Irish (23-5-2; 17-3-2 CCHA) in the CCHA tournament.
Tonight’s contest for a second consecutive night was a nip-and-tuck affair between the first and 12th place teams in the league. Notre Dame head coach Jeff Jackson was pleased to leave Ohio with four points, though he felt his team’s effort was lackluster at the beginning of the game.
“I thought in the second and third period, we [matched Bowling Green's effort]. I give them credit. They played hard and they’re difficult to play against in this building. As far as I’m concerned, it was two, gutty, character-type wins.”
“You can say what you want about standings and stuff like that. This was a typical example, in my opinion, of a 12th place team and a first place team not having that much difference [between them].”
“This was the type of weekend we needed,” said Freshman center Kevin Deeth. “Close games like this are always good for a team, and this brought us all closer together.”
Bowling Green (5-24-2; 3-19-1 CCHA) played one of their best series of the year, but had nothing to show for it in the win column.
“It’s a disappointing feeling not to get any points this weekend,” said Falcon Coach Scott Paluch. “Both nights were really hard-fought.”
“When you look at 120 minutes of hockey here, you’re looking at one five on five goal the entire weekend. As the weekend went on [Notre Dame] were more disciplined than we were. We took too many penalties. We’re at our best when we’re five on five. You know, five on five, we won the battles this weekend, but we didn’t allow ourselves a chance to win the games.
Bowling Green used a power play goal to take a 1-0 lead at the 7:19 mark of the opening period. Kevin Schmidt, standing at the point, fired a shot toward the net that was tipped by freshman Kai Kantola, beating David Brown on the stick side. The goal was Kantola’s 4th of the year and was also assisted by Jonathan Matsumoto.
The Irish nearly tied the game with three minutes left in the period, but Falcon goaltender Jimmy Spratt was able to make an outstanding point-blank save on a Jason Paige shot right in front of the crease to keep Notre Dame off the scoreboard.
The save and another one like it late in the third period to keep the game in reach was indicative of the strong netminding performance put together by Spratt.
“That was a great save,” said Paluch. “I also thought the save with six minutes left in the game was spectacular. I thought it was a very good weekend for Jimmy.”
After being outshot 8-3 in the opening period, Notre Dame made the necessary adjustments during the intermission. The result was an 18-7 advantage in shots the rest of the way.
“Coach just came into the locker room and said we needed to tighten up defensively, especially in our neutral zone, said Deeth. “We had guys going to places they weren’t supposed to and so we just went back to our systems the things that have worked for us all year. We stayed within our confines and it ended up working out at the end.”
The Irish would tie the game seven minutes into the middle period, skating four on four. Michael Bartlett would pick up his second goal of the weekend, again finding the five-hole of Jimmy Spratt in traffic at the net. Brock Sheahan and Jason Paige added the helpers.
After an unsportsmanlike conduct call to freshman Tomas Petruska, Notre Dame took the lead six minutes later with a power play marker. Freshman Kyle Lawson threaded a needle with his pass from the point and found the stick of fellow freshman Kevin Deeth. He shoveled the puck past Spratt’s stick to give the Irish the lead. Brett Blatchford tallied an assist.
“It was a really nice play by Kyle Lawson to thread the needle back door. I really didn’t have to do anything. It was just on my stick and I had to tap it in,” explained Deeth.
The Fighting Irish finished the night 1 for 8 on the power play, while the Falcons connected once in five tries.
David Brown made 14 saves on the evening, while his counterpart Jimmy Spratt stopped 19 shots.
Notre Dame will travel to Omaha next weekend to take on the UNO Mavericks, while the Falcons will play just one game next weekend a Friday night tilt at home against Michigan.