SOUTH BEND, Ind. — The top-ranked and top-seeded Notre Dame Fighting Irish defeated the Alaska Nanooks 7-1 on Friday in the first game of their second-round CCHA playoff series. Erik Condra had four assists to lead the Irish, who dominated the game from the very beginning.
Notre Dame scored five goals in the first period, all of which were set up by great offensive-zone passing. Fresh off a bye week, the Fighting Irish came out flying. They were in complete control throughout the first period, outshooting Alaska 15-6 and holding the Nanooks’ offense in check.
Fighting Irish defenseman Wes O’Neill scored his first goal of the year 3:06 into the game. Condra made a perfect drop pass to O’Neill, who buried a wrist shot past Alaska goaltender Wylie Rogers. Ryan Thang also recorded an assist on the goal.
Regan scored the first of his two goals a little over three minutes after O’Neill on another drop pass, this time from defenseman Noah Babin. Babin carried the puck from center ice all the way into the left faceoff circle, and then dropped the puck off for Regan, who doubled the Irish lead.
Condra’s second assist of the night set up defenseman Brock Sheahan’s second goal of the season at 9:34 of the first period. With the teams skating four-on-four, freshman center Kevin Deeth gained control of the puck at center ice and feed Condra. Condra then drew two defenders and found a streaking Sheahan, wide-open for Notre Dame’s third goal of the night.
Regan’s second goal of the night, a one timer off a pass from O’Neill, gave Notre Dame a four-goal lead at 14:25 of the first period and end Rogers’ night. Rogers was replaced by backup goaltender Chad Johnson.
Senior center Jason Paige capped off a spectacular first period with a power-play goal, his 10th of the season. Thang fired the puck from the left circle to the far post, where Paige was waiting to redirect it into a wide-open net. Condra also recorded an assist on the goal.
Alaska coach Tavis MacMillian was disappointed with his team’s play, saying, “The other team was playing at 100 miles per hour and we were playing at 50. It’s tough to beat a team when they are moving twice as fast as you.”
MacMillian stressed the importance of a fast and physical start for his Nanooks in Saturday night’s game two.
With the game seemingly out of hand, the play turned very physical in the second period. There were 16 total penalty minutes in the period, including 12 for the Nanooks. The Fighting Irish noticeably laid back on offense, but their suffocating defense started to take over the game. Notre Dame goaltender David Brown faced only three shots the entire second period.
Brown made 16 saves on the night as the Irish outshot the Nanooks 31-17 for the game.
Freshman defenseman Kyle Lawson scored the only goal of the second period off another great pass from Condra. After a battle for the puck just inside the blue line, Condra broke free and fed Lawson near the top of the right faceoff circle. Lawson cut towards the net and ripped a snap shot over Johnson’s glove to increase the Irish lead to 6-0.
Notre Dame started the third period on the power play, and it didn’t take long for the Irish to set up yet another beautiful goal. Mark Van Guilder benefited from a great tic-tac-toe passing play to score his team-leading 18th goal of the season just 58 seconds into the third. After receiving a pass from his partner at the point, Justin White fed Regan on the right side of the net. Regan one touched the puck across the crease to Van Guilder, who had a wide-open net.
With the game well in hand for Notre Dame, Alaska finally got on the board at 4:41 of the third period, spoiling Brown’s shutout. Senior defenseman Nathan Fornataro scored his sixth goal of the year on a rocket slapshot over Brown’s right shoulder. Freshman Jeff Lee and sophomore Ryan Muspratt were given the assists.
Irish coach Jeff Jackson was pleased with his team’s effort, but he expressed caution about Saturday night’s game.
“We played well, but they’re a much better team than we saw tonight,” said Jackson. “Tonight is over, and tomorrow they’ll come out mad.”
Alaska played the game without top-line center Curtis Fraser, who suffered an upper-body injury against Western Michigan last weekend. MacMillian said that Fraser is doubtful for Saturday and will probably miss the rest of the season.
On the other side of the coin, Notre Dame welcomed back one of its leaders, senior forward Josh Sciba. Sciba, who has 17 points on the season, was playing in his first game since breaking his wrist on January 26th against Miami.
Notre Dame and Alaska face off in game two Saturday night at 7:05 p.m. in the Joyce Center. The Irish will be looking to win the series and advance to the CCHA semifinals for the first time since 2000.