SOUTH BEND, Ind. — The Notre Dame Fighting Irish rode a strong defensive effort to a 3-1 win over the Western Michigan Broncos on Saturday night for their first home win in over a month.
The Irish, who last won at home on January 25, got goals, all on the power play, from their three leading scorers: Ryan Thang, Erik Condra, and Mark Van Guilder. Netminder Jordan Pearce also played well, stopping 15 of the 16 shots he faced.
A night after an embarrassing 3-0 shutout loss at Lawson Arena, the Irish came out firing early in Saturday nights contest. Notre Dame, who was wearing green jerseys for their Senior Night, registered 20 first period shots to the Broncos six. However, Western Michigan goalie Riley Gill was up to the task, stopping all of the Irish chances. Gill finished with 36 saves on the night
“I thought we played well, we had long sustained periods of pressure in the offensive zone tonight, said Irish coach Jeff Jackson. However, Jackson was still concerned about what he perceived to be apprehensive play by his team.
We were afraid to make mistakes, even when we were up two goals in the third, Jackson said. Conference can be a fragile thing.
Gills shutout streak was snapped 11:43 into the first period when Ryan Thang scored his team leading 16th goal of the season. With the Irish on a 5-on-3 power play, Kyle Lawson had a shot from the point blocked and reached out in desperation to poke the puck past an oncoming Western Michigan defender.
The puck trickled into the slot, where Thang took a wild swing at the puck, putting it between Gills legs after it bounced at the top of the crease. Lawson and freshman defenseman Ian Cole recorded assists on the play.
The Broncos had a golden opportunity to tie the game only minutes later when a rebound left Nathan Ansell all alone in the slot. Ansell beat a down and out Pearce, but the puck clanged loudly off the left goal post.
The Irish didnt let up in the middle period. Notre Dames defense locked down, allowing only two shots in 20 minutes. However, Notre Dame missed several good chances to give themselves a two goal cushion. The best chance came when Erik Condra made a nifty pass to give Kevin Deeth the puck all by himself in the slot. However, Deeths quick wrist shot sailed well wide of the goal.
Notre Dame finally struck again on the power play late in the second period to push their lead to 2-0. After sustained pressure in the Bronco zone, Ian Cole attempted to make a cross ice saucer pass to Kevin Deeth. The puck, however, never made it through, striking Erik Condra in the ankle and deflecting through the legs of Gill. The goal was Condras 14th of the season.
Senior forward Mark Van Guilder scored the Irishs third goal with just over three minutes to play in the game. Van Guilder took a pass from fellow senior Evan Rankin and swept a quick shot from just above the goal line past Gill. Van Guilder, who was visibly frustrated earlier in the game when he missed several prime scoring chances, raised his hands to the sky in an apparent sigh of relief.
Bronco forward Adam Flink spoiled Pearces shutout attempt when he beat the goalie with a shot from the right faceoff dot with only seven seconds remaining. The goal was the first of Flinks career, and was assisted by Tyler Ludwig.
Following the goal, Irish coach Jeff Jackson took a timeout in order to honor his five seniors in their last regular season home game. Mark Van Guilder, Evan Rankin, Brian DArcy, Brock Sheahan, and Dan VeNard stood alone on the ice, and the crowd gave them a standing ovation while the Notre Dame Victory March played in the background.
For both teams, Saturdays game marked the end of the regular season. Notre Dame finished the year at 15-9-4 in the CCHA, good enough to earn a first round bye. They will host a second round playoff series starting on March 14.
Western Michigan will travel to Big Rapids, Michigan to face off against the Ferris State Bulldogs in the first round of the CCHA playoffs next weekend.