SOUTH BEND, Ind. — In a game that featured hard hitting and plenty of young talent, No. 11 Notre Dame rode a superior effort from it’s special teams and players of all ages to a 4-3 victory over the No. 5 Denver Pioneers.
While the Pioneers struggled on the power play, failing to score on all five attempts, Notre Dame was nearly perfect, with junior Garrett Regan, sophomore Ryan Thang, and freshman Ben Ryan all netting power-play goals. The Irish finished three-for-four on the power play, with their lone miss coming on a ten-second advantage to end the game.
Sophomore defenseman Kyle Lawson also added a goal and anchored a superior penalty-killing unit for the Irish. Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson applauded the efforts of his Irish, but still had concerns about their continued success. “Special teams are always a factor. We’re pretty happy with the way the power play is working right now, but we still need to spend some more time on it, Jackson said. “[Assistant coach] Paul Pooley has done a great job with our special teams, but tonight’s just one night, and we will have to continue to make adjustments.”
Denver (2-1-0) dominated the first ten minutes of the contest, punctuated by a goal from Kyle Ostrow only 1:42 into the game. The freshman center notched his second tally in three collegiate games with a wrist shot that snuck by Irish goaltender Jordan Pearce’s glove side. Senior winger Tom May recorded the assist for his first point of the season.
Denver continued to have the upper hand for the next few minutes of the period, culminating in a power play after Notre Dame center Kevin Deeth took an offensive zone tripping penalty. Notre Dame (2-1-0), however, easily killed the penalty and began to seize the momentum from the Pioneers. After the Deeth penalty expired, Notre Dame seemingly took over the game.
“I don’t think we were prepared to play as hard a game as we needed to play,” said Denver head coach George Gwozdecky. “I thought we were a little bit complacent, and there’s a fine line between having that mental edge and not being on top of our game.”
The momentum now in its corner, Notre Dame got it’s first power play of the game at 17:53 of the first period, and it took them only 17 seconds to capitalize on the advantage. Brett Blatchford fed freshman Ian Cole, who ripped a shot from the right point. Garrett Regan deflected the puck between the legs of goaltender Peter Mannino for his second goal of the season.
The game only remained tied for 75 seconds, however, when the Pioneers capitalized on a fortunate bounce to take a 2-1 lead. Freshman Tyler Bozak skated into the zone on the left hand side and feathered a pass toward the front of the net. The puck deflected off a defenseman’s skate and past Pearce for Bozak’s first career goal. Sophomore Brock Trotter and junior Chris Butler were credited with the assists.
Notre Dame’s Kyle Lawson tied the game at 2-2 a little more than midway through the second period with the Irish’s second power-play tally. With Chris Butler off for a check from behind, Lawson and Kevin Deeth worked the puck at the point until Lawson fired a one-timer from just inside the blue line. With Evan Rankin causing chaos in front of the goal, the puck appeared to deflect off the stick of a Denver defenseman and squirted through the legs of Mannino, barely crossing the goal line.
A little over five minutes later, the Irish took the lead for good thanks to a stellar play from some familiar faces. Junior forward Erik Condra, who has led the Irish in points the last two seasons, won a battle for the puck in the left corner and fed a wide open Ryan Thang at the top of the circle. Thang, who led the Irish in goals as a freshman last year, ripped a shot over the glove of Mannino and just under the crossbar for the goal.
In a strange twist, the game was halted for nearly 30 minutes during the second intermission when a tornado warning threatened the South Bend area. Fans were instructed to clear the bleachers for about ten minutes as the dangerous weather passed through the area.
After shaking off the rust from the long intermission, Notre Dame doubled it’s lead about seven minutes into the third period with their third power-play goal of the game. With Denver’s Patrick Mullen off for hooking, Garrett Regan threw the puck toward the front of the net from deep in the corner. The puck then laid loose in front while two Irish forwards attempted to put it in. After several attempts, Ben Ryan was able to find the back of the net for his first career goal.
Now trailing 4-2, Denver would not go away quietly. Just 32 seconds after the Ryan tally, Denver took advantage of an Irish miscue to cut the lead to 4-3. Irish defenseman Brock Sheahan fanned on a clearing attempt and Brock Trotter found himself alone in the slot. Denver’s leading scorer from last year didn’t miss, immediately firing a shot over the glove of Pearce.
Notre Dame was able to kill off two minor penalties in the latter half of the third to maintain their one goal margin. Sheahan was sent off for cross-checking at 10:03 of the period, and Ryan was whistled for an interference penalty just under four minutes later. Denver had a few scoring chances, recording four shots on the two power plays, but Pearce and the Irish were able to hold the fort.
Pearce made 17 saves in the contest to win his second consecutive game between the pipes, while Mannino made 14 stops in the loss.
The Irish and the Pioneers face off in the finale of the two game set tomorrow night at 7:35 in the Joyce Center.