DETROIT — After playing the first 59:56 without a goal, the Miami RedHawks found the net with 3.4 seconds remaining in regulation to send the first CCHA semifinal into overtime, where Alec Martinez’s high shot from the top of the slot gave the No. 3 RedHawks a 2-1 win over Notre Dame.
“I thought the guys did a great job all night long, for the most part sticking to our game plan,” said Miami head coach Enrico Blasi.
Mitch Ganzak had the last-second, game-tying marker, his second goal of the season and his 100th career collegiate point. “As far as the goal, 100 points, I’m glad,” said Ganzak, who said that he would have been happy to see any RedHawk score that goal. “It’s a feat that not too many people do. There’s no better way I could have asked to get it.”
Miami goaltender Jeff Zatkoff stopped 20 of Notre Dame’s 21 shots, and Irish netminder Jordan Pearce had a 28-save performance at the other end.
Pearce’s impressive presence stymied the nation’s best offense for most of the night, contributing to the cautious feel of the contest. The longer the game remained scoreless, the more protective each squad became until Notre Dame’s late third-period power play produced a goal that was waved off.
Ryan Thang broke out of the Miami zone, forcing RedHawk Ray Eichenlaub to trip the sophomore at the Miami blue line, but for the first 1:46 of the man advantage the Irish cycled the puck along the perimeter without sending it toward the net. The endless cycling finally drew the RedHawks out of their envelope to play the puck along the boards, which created space in the left circle for Mark Van Guilder to fire and seemingly hit the far post at 13:49.
Video review showed that the puck never fully crossed the goal line, but the play helped the Irish realize that they might be able to get one past Zatkoff, the netminder with the second-best goals-against average and save percentage in the nation.
So at 15:30, the Irish took the 1-0 lead on Evan Rankin’s shot from the slot. After Van Guilder’s goal was called back, Notre Dame redoubled its pressure, leading to Rankin’s goal from Ben Ryan and Dan Kissell. The shot beat Zatkoff high, skimming the top of the goalie’s glove.
“It was an unfortunate goal that they got,” said Blasi, “and ‘Z’ will probably tell you that he’d want it back, but to score with two seconds left, that’s just a lucky bounce and gave us a lot of life going into overtime. We were definitely opportunistic in our chances.”
With Zatkoff pulled for the extra skater, the RedHawks threw everything they had at Pearce in the closing seconds. As the seconds ticked down, Ganzak shot from the point and managed to get the puck past everyone in his path, including Miami captain Ryan Jones and Notre Dame sophomore Ryan Thang, who were crowding the crease on the play.
Jones was instrumental on the game-winner, fishing the puck out from boards and feeding out to Bryan Kaufman, who passed to Martinez between the top of the circles. Martinez shot high and Pearce screened by RedHawk Pat Cannone and Notre Dame’s Kevin Deeth — got the top of his glove on it, but not enough to keep it from finding the twine.
“It was a broken play along the left half-wall,” said Martinez. “The puck just kind of bounced out towards me, and I just tried to shoot it as hard as I could.
“I just got the shot off and it was a little difficult to follow because there was some traffic in front of the net. I thought I saw it go in but it was kind of delayed. I didn’t really know it went in until I saw the mesh ripple a little bit after the puck dropped.”
Martinez was immediately mobbed by his teammates. “It was pretty scary being on the bottom.”
Ganzak said that “cautious” is “exactly the word to describe” how the teams played through the first two scoreless periods. “Neither team wanted to make that big mistake,” he said.
It was Notre Dame’s ability to play as a team that kept the RedHawks from scoring until the very end, said Martinez. “I think that one of the strong suits that Notre Dame has is just their confidence in their system. They’re a pretty well-oiled machine. I think that’s their biggest asset — everyone does their job.”
ND head coach Jeff Jackson said that the nature of the loss was “difficult.” “Any time you lose a game like that, it’s pretty devastating. I couldn’t ask anything more from their effort and the way they played.”
The RedHawks (32-6-1) advance to Saturday’s CCHA championship game at 7:30 p.m., while the Irish (24-14-4) will play the third-place game at 4:30.
“You’ve got to get over it,” said ND captain Van Guilder. “You can’t just sit around all night and pout about it. It’s not going to change … the game tomorrow. We’ve still got to get up, we’ve still got to play.”