SOUTH BEND, Ind. — It wasn’t as easy for Notre Dame tonight as it was last night, but the No. 2 team in the country still got it done when it needed to get it done, and it meant scoring early and shutting down the opponent the rest of the way.
Fighting Irish senior Jordan Pearce notched his second-straight CCHA playoff shutout with 30 saves as regular season champion Notre Dame punched its ticket to the conference semifinals next weekend in Detroit.
With the 1-0 win over the Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks, the Irish improve to 29-5-3 on the season as they look to recapture the Mason Cup they won in 2007 as the conference playoff titleist.
“We played a tough team,” said Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson. “We caught them off a bit. I thought we were extremely sharp last night, but the second two periods and those two periods tonight, it was an even hockey game, both times. We really handled them in one period out of six. They deserve a lot of a credit.”
A testy third period challenged the Irish resolve, but Pearce would not relent as Nebraska-Omaha challenged him repeatedly throughout the final 20 minutes of play, making 13 saves in the period. Mavericks’ senior Jerad Kaufmann matched him save-for-save in a battle that he and his team could not win in the end.
“Winning 1-0 is probably a little bit more like we’re supposed to win,” added Jackson. “I thought Jordan Pearce was the difference in the game. If he’s not first- or second-team in this conference, something’s not right. He’s done it all season long. He was outstanding last night, and he was even better tonight.”
As for the Mavericks, they end the season 15-17-8, but they can hold their heads high after battling the Irish tonight on the road. After getting trounced Friday, Nebraska-Omaha certainly gave everything they had in this game, outshooting the Irish 22-13 in the final 40 minutes of play.
“I was pleased with the way we didn’t let that one goal get us down,” Nebraska-Omaha coach Mike Kemp said. “We just kept playing, and obviously we had our chances.”
After last night’s blowout, the crowd was certainly looking for a repeat performance, and the way things started, they may have thought they were going to get the encore.
Notre Dame jumped to an early lead once again, scoring just 2:34 into the contest. Junior wing Dan Kissel got the puck in the corner and centered it nicely for senior center Justin White. Kaufmann was out of position, and White has a relatively empty net in front of him.
“Miscommunication between our defensemen and the goaltender,” Kemp said. “The defenseman’s job in that situation is to call the throw. He called the throw the wrong way. Obviously, it was too tough for Kaufmann to get back.”
This score was all the scoring in the first period, as Nebraska-Omaha held their ground and didn’t give another inch for the rest of the opening frame. Notre Dame outshot the Mavericks 11-8 in the first period, but the early goal felt like a fluke considering the stalemate that followed.
“That’s kind of the microcosm of how the season went,” Kemp said. “Bounces like that didn’t go our way. Jordan Pearce deserved a heck of a lot of credit. We go nine periods without scoring on him; that’s a heck of a job.”
Kaufmann made a key point-blank save with 8:33 left in the second period to keep the score close, but that was the primary scoring chance for either team in the second period. Nebraska-Omaha did outshoot the Irish in the middle period, 9-8, however, to keep the pressure on the nation’s No. 2 team.
“We had tougher match-ups tonight,” Jackson said. “They changed their lines around a little bit, and I was kind of feeling them out, trying to find out what worked and what didn’t. I never really felt comfortable the whole game; that’s one of the advantages you’re supposed to have at home. They did a real good job of bottling us up tonight; they really clogged up the neutral zone.”
For Pearce, who was left off the All-CCHA first- and second-teams despite being a finalist for Player of the Year, the two consecutive shutouts extend his scoreless streak to 145:51 and counting. Pearce also pushed his school-record, single-season shutout total to eight.
“I watch him now, and he competes as hard as any goalie I’ve ever coached,” Jackson said. “It’s just his nature. It’s a great trait in a goalie to be emotionally under control. Tonight, he just looked like he wasn’t going to give up a goal. He had that look about him, that confidence, like there was nothing getting by him.”
Pearce has a chance to extend that streak next Friday in Detroit, as the top-seeded Irish play in a CCHA semifinal game, against the lowest remaining seed in the playoffs.
“The real hockey starts now,” Jackson said. “I thought we looked a little tired, and that could be a direct result of having had the bye week. We worked hard, but there’s nothing like game conditioning to get you ready for the next weekend.”