SOUTH BEND, Ind. — The tenth-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish returned to a familiar formula on Friday night in a 4-1 win over the Western Michigan Broncos. In an effort reminiscent of last years record setting team, the Irish played suffocating defense and soundly outskated the Broncos, allowing only 12 shots on goal and causing Western Michigan to commit 12 penalties.
The second period was the difference in the game, as the Irish outshot the Broncos 15-3 on their way to scoring three goals for the final margin of victory.
The three goal outburst started only 2:16 into the second period. Notre Dame defenseman Dan VeNard flipped a shot from just inside the blue line that deflected off a Bronco and slid under Gill for VeNards second goal of the season. Kevin Deeth and Dan Kissel recorded assists on the play.
Late in the second period, Erik Condra and Mark Van Guilder, the teams two leading scorers, each tallied a power play goal to put the game out of reach. Condras goal, his fifth of the season, came just after a five on three Irish power play expired. Condra took a pass from Van Guilder at the bottom of the right circle and buried a wrist shot over the shoulder of Gill.
With just over a minute to go in the period, Van Guilder notched a goal of his own to extend the Irish lead to 4-1. The Irish took advantage of another 5-on-3 advantage to work the puck to Van Guilder at the top of the slot. He immediately took a wrist shot that went through several players in front of the net and between the legs of Gill.
The goal, Van Guilders team leading seventh of the season, was assisted by Condra and defenseman Kyle Lawson. Irish coach Jeff Jackson was very pleased with his team defensive effort as they limited Western Michigan to its lowest shot total of the season.
We controlled the puck, Jackson said. We had the puck in the offensive zone a lot, and thats the best defense of all. If we value the puck and control the puck, than we dont have to play defense.
Early in the first period, Notre Dame came out flying. They exhibited the puck control that Jackson talked about, but were unable to produce too many quality scoring chances until Ryan Thang tallied his sixth goal of the season to put his team up 1-0.
Thang fought around a check at the top of the left circle but was hooked to the ice as he tried to get a shot off. Undeterred, Thang maintained control of the puck as he fell to the ice and swept the puck under Bronco goaltender Riley Gill from his stomach. Freshman Ben Ryan recorded an assist on the goal.
Lost in the Broncos (3-6-0, 1-4-0) loss was a stellar effort from Gill. The sophomore made 40 saves, many of them on point blank chances. His counterpart, Irish junior netminder Jordan Pearce, made 11 saves to record his seventh victory of the season.
The Irish (8-4-0, 6-2-0) had several chances to increase their lead, but the Broncos were stellar in their own end, blocking several shots and getting some big saves from Gill when the Irish were able to get a shot through.
Another great individual play led to the games second goal, this time from Western Michigans Mike Lesperance. With only a minute to go in the period, the senior found himself alone with Irish goaltender Jordan Pearce at the right dot. Lesperance faked Pearce to the ice, moved around him and tucked the puck into a wide open net to tie the score at 1-1.
The second period started off much like the first as the Irish again looked sharp right from the start. Notre Dames Christian Hanson had a prime scoring chance only 20 seconds in, but his rocket wrist shot went off the right post.
As the third period began, the play became much more physical, with both teams seemingly trying to send a message for their three remaining games this season. Western Michigan got the worst of it, however, taking five third period penalties to Notre Dames zero.
The two teams finish off their series tomorrow night at Lawson Arena. The puck drops at 7:35 P.M.