SOUTH BEND, Ind. — The No.2 Notre Dame Fighting Irish jumped out to a quick 3-0 advantage against Northern Michigan, lost their lead, then finally pulled away for a 9-5 victory in a wild game at the Joyce Center on Friday night.
The Irish offense put up their biggest totals since handing a Bowling Green a 9-1 loss back in November, and they did it against one of the hottest teams in the CCHA.
The loss snapped a seven-game unbeaten streak for NMU. After starting the season 3-12-3, the Wildcats are now 8-2-1 in their last 11 contests, dating back to the New Year.
After trailing 3-0 in the opening 12 minutes, the Wildcats roared back to tie the game at four. A major penalty in the third period allowed the Irish to pull away for their 22nd win of the season.
“I’m happy with our offensive performance, but I’m really disappointed that we broke down defensively,” said Irish coach Jeff Jackson “We’ve spent a lot of time working on our defensive coverage and we broke down. But, you’ve got to give Northern credit. They have some really high-end offensive players, so they’re partially responsible, but we need to be more consistent.
“I don’t like to leave our goaltender out to dry. I don’t think those goals had much to do with Jordan. We broke down and they out-competed us for body position in front of the net. It was just one of those games where it happened at both ends.
“We gave them life. I thought we broke down in defensive transition a couple of times. We gave up some odd-man rushes up the ice and they scored a couple of nice goals. The guys were getting hyped up offensively, and then it burned them defensively.
“That was a pretty crazy game,” agreed Irish captain Erik Condra, who scored a pair of goals in the opening period. “That’s not our style of hockey. It’s fun for us forwards, but we’ve got to play stronger defense tomorrow night.”
Notre Dame put the Wildcats on notice right away in the opening period, pinning three goals on their opponent. Garrett Regan got Notre Dame on the board at 1:29 by tipping in a shot from Kyle Lawson at the point for a 1-0 Notre Dame lead. Erik Condra added a pair of goals, and even before the 12-minute mark of the game, the Irish had staked out a 3-0 lead.
With his team rattled, Northern Michigan coach Walt Kyle pulled Stewart from goal in favor of junior Derek Janzen, then quickly took a timeout to settle the troops.
The ploy worked. The Wildcats struck back for a pair of goals to close the gap on Notre Dame.
“We weren’t good,” said Kyle of the opening 12 minutes of hockey. “We took a dumb penalty to give them the first goal. We had a couple of bad situations one-on-one. We hung our goalie out to dry, we put a new guy in. We needed to change momentum. We came back after [Janzen] gave us some momentum.”
Ray Kaunisto got NMU on the board at 14:13. Standing behind the goal line, Gregor Hanson fed a pass to Kaunisto who was waiting in front of the crease. He was able to chip a shot past the blocker of Pearce for his sixth goal of the year.
The Wildcats pulled to within one marker on a nifty goal by Phil Fox. The sophomore winger skated through a pair of defensemen just below the blue line, then snapped a wrist shot past Pearce for his eighth goal of the season.
With the teams trading goals in the second period (Ben Ryan and Justin White for the Irish, Erik Gustafsson and Justin Florek for NMU), two teams known for their defensive play were set to shoot it out in the final stanza.
“We just needed to settle down,” explained Condra in talking about allowing Northern to tie the score at four. “We have a veteran team. Coach Jackson just told us to settle down and play our game, and start playing more Irish-style hockey. It’s more effective.”
“It was good to get up 3-0, then we let down,” explained Justin White. “When they tied it up, everybody just looked at each other and said, ‘We’ve got to start playing.’ The whole team realized that we can’t let down at all. We have to play 60 minutes of hockey, and we elevated [our game] at that point.”
Notre Dame scored its sixth goal of the night early in the third period on a power-play goal. Ian Cole drove a shot from the point through traffic that went in off a defender’s skate for his fifth goal of the season.
A major hitting from behind penalty assessed to the Wildcats’ Mike Maltese turned a close game into a rout, as the Irish scored three power-play goals in the five minute man-advantage.
Calle Ridderwall iced the game at 11:32 of the final period with his 12th goal of the season, beating Janzen after a scrum in front of the net.
Cole and White added power-play goals late for the Irish to cap their team’s scoring.
The Wildcats’ Tyler Gron added one more to NMU’s scoring column by notching his first collegiate goal at 16:50, chipping in a pass from Tim Hartung.
Pearce stopped 17 of the 22 shots he faced. Janzen and Stewart combined for 24 saves in 33 chances.
The two teams meet again on Saturday. Opening faceoff is set for 7:05 p.m.