SOUTH BEND, Ind. — The Notre Dame Fighting Irish earned a hard fought, gritty 2-1 victory over the Ferris State Bulldogs in the third and decisive game of their second-round CCHA series.
After a loss on Friday night left them on the brink of elimination, the Irish were faced with a daunting task — winning back to back games, something they had not accomplished since late January, against the hottest team in the league.
Notre Dame turned to the offense on Saturday, winning 6-3, but used the familiar formula of lockdown defense and stellar goaltending complete the two game comeback on Sunday.
“I’m really proud of our guys,” Irish head coach Jeff Jackson said. “That was a very difficult game to play. Hats off to Ferris State and [Bulldogs head coach] Bob Daniels, they played us hard. I expected it to be that way, and it wasn’t any different.”
Fittingly, an Irish defenseman scored what would prove to be the game-winning goal. With the score tied at 1-1, Ian Cole’s third goal in two nights put the Irish ahead 2-1 less than a minute into the second period. With Matt Case in the penalty box for interference, Notre Dame worked the puck around on the power play to Cole at the right point. Cole faked around a Bulldog defender and skated into the slot all alone, patiently waiting out O’Keefe before flicking a wrist shot past O’Keefe’s blocker.
Notre Dame’s Jordan Pearce made the difference in goal. Pearce faced 25 shots, and turned aside 24 of them, nearly flawlessly controlling rebounds to prevent the Bulldogs from getting second chances.
“I’m proud of [Pearce],” said Jackson. “He’s gone way beyond the call of duty, and he took it home tonight. He’s done it to some degree before, but tonight was a little different.”
Notre Dame’s penalty kill, a liability the previous night when Ferris State had three power-play goals, turned in a superb performance. The Irish held the Bulldogs to a scoreless night on the power play, including a crucial penalty kill after Kyle Lawson took a neutral-zone tripping penalty with only 3:49 left. Led by blueliners Teddy Ruth, Brock Sheahan, and Ian Cole, the Irish cleared the puck to the Bulldog end time after time, wasting away the clock and ultimately Ferris State’s season.
“[Assistant coach] Paul Pooley met with the penalty killers before the game,” said Jackson. “He had a strategic plan, their power play has been extremely hot in the second half, and we had to make some adjustments.”
The other two goals were scored within the first five minutes of the game. Notre Dame struck first when Dan Kissel capitalized on a loose rebound in front of the net. Irish defenseman Teddy Ruth took a shot from the point that sailed through traffic and off the right pad of Mitch O’Keefe right into the slot, where Kissel was waiting to put it home.
Ferris State struck back minutes later on a nice individual effort from Adam Miller. Miller took a pass from Justin Lewandowski that left him in alone on Jordan Pearce from the right faceoff dot. Miller deked around Pearce and shoveled a backhand into the net for his ninth goal of the season.
The teams traded chances throughout the early parts of the second, but as the period wore on Notre Dame appeared to gain the upper hand in the play. The Irish clearly had the better of the chances in the latter half of the period, none better than Calle Ridderwall’s shot late in the period that beat O’Keefe and rang loudly off the crossbar.
Ferris State had a chance to tie it early in the third when Justin Menke ripped a one-time shot that appeared destined for the corner of the net. Pearce, however, flashed his glove out at the last second, robbing Menke of the tying goal.
Sunday’s game also only saw a total of seven power plays, compared to 17 on Saturday. Part of that change might have been due to a change in the head official, as Matt Shegos replaced Keith Sergott, who officiated both Friday and Saturday night’s game.
This game likely marks the end of the season for Ferris State, who finished with a 18-16-5 record. Notre Dame improved their total record to 24-13-4, and now heads to Joe Louis Arena to attempt to defend their CCHA tournament title and secure a berth in the NCAA tournament. The Irish will face the Miami Redhawks on Friday night.