DETROIT — What’s the difference between a second-place CCHA tournament finish and a Mason Cup? Twenty seconds, exactly.
Trailing 2-1 going into the third, the Fighting Irish got a power-play goal from Calle Ridderwall at 1:45 before Ben Ryan’s game-winner, his second of the weekend, at 2:05. From there, Notre Dame never looked back en route to a 5-2 win over the defending CCHA tournament champion Michigan Wolverines.
“A hard-fought game and that’s why you play 60 minutes,” said Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson, who coached Notre Dame to their second CCHA tournament championship in three years.
For the first 30 minutes of this game, Michigan could do no wrong. The Wolverines dominated in the faceoff circle and along the boards, beat the Irish to every loose puck, blocked Notre Dame shots and generally made a 2-0 lead look easy.
Luke Glendening put UM ahead 1-0 after one with his rebound goal at 14:32 in the first. Steve Kampfer took the initial shot, a blast from the right point that hit ND’s Kyle Lawson and bounced back to Glendening, who picked up the puck and put it past Irish goaltender Jordan Pearce on the fly.
Michigan went up 2-0 at 2:10 of the second when David Wohlberg beat Irish defenseman Ian Cole to get to Pearce after taking a feed from Tim Miller. Wohlberg’s shot beat Pearce from close in high on the near side.
However, when the Irish answered 10 minutes later, the entire tone of the game changed. Brett Blatchford took the puck from Pearce behind the Notre Dame net and up along the boards to Kevin Deeth, who picked it up and skated into the Michigan zone up the left side. Deeth left the puck for Billy Maday at the point; Maday walked in and shot from the left circle, between the legs of a Michigan defender, finding the far side of the net to put the Irish on the board and send Notre Dame to the races.
“We were down 2-0 but I didn’t feel like we were down 2-0,” said Jackson. “I thought our kids were playing pretty well. It was just a matter of being patient enough to generate some scoring chances, which Michigan didn’t give up many early on.
“Once we caught a break and Billy Maday scored, it kind of turned the tide for us.”
“Once they got their first goal, and that was an easy goal…we were getting bounces and then they started to get the bounces, and that’s how the game went,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “That first goal gave them life and got them back in the game. If we got the next goal, the game was probably over, but that didn’t happen.”
At 1:45 in the third, Ridderwall tipped in Blatchford’s blast from the left point to tie the game. At 2:05, Ryan popped one up and over a sprawling Bryan Hogan and suddenly it was a 3-2 game.
“On the first one there, it was kind of a lucky break in front of the net,” said Ridderwall. “I just found my way to the net and Brett Blatchford put a perfect shot on net and I just got a stick on it and put a lucky tip going on.”
Ryan said that he was able to jump into the play that led to his goal because of the hard work of his teammates following the faceoff after Ridderwall’s marker.
“I kind of swung to the side the opposite way where Kyle Lawson was coming up,” said Ryan. “He shot it off the boards and I knew that if it got by their ‘D’ I was right in so I was flying up the boards. Ryan Thang made a great play. He was getting dirty the whole weekend and he chipped it to me and I went in and I just jerked the goalie and shot it in.
“You’ve got to take advantage of your chances when you get them in a game like that.”
Ridderwall made it 4-2 at 11:11, backhanding the puck in past Hogan five-hole, while carrying Wolverines Tim Miller and Louie Caporusso down the right wing with him, and Christiaan Minella put the game away for good with his bullet on the fly from the top of the left circle.
“We wanted to get the lead in this game and we did,” said Berenson. “Obviously, you want to hold the lead going into the third and we did, and then an untimely faceoff goal was huge, I thought, in the third period and got them back in the game and then at 20 seconds later another goal, a back-breaking goal, gave them momentum in the third and we couldn’t recover from that.
“Did we have chances? We had a couple of excellent chances but couldn’t get the puck past Pearce. Give them credit and obviously we’ve got to regroup, whether it’s defensively, offensively, goalkeeping, everything. It was a disappointing third period. Otherwise, I thought we played a good game.”
Now both the Wolverines (29-11-0) and the Fighting Irish (31-5-3) await their brackets for this year’s NCAA tournament, but both are virtually assured a No. 1 seed in the field of 16. Jackson, however, said that he wants his team to savor this accomplishment before thinking about where they’ll head next week.
“Realistically, this is an event unto itself and I like to reflect on this event specifically, and next week starts after midnight tonight,” said Jackson. “We’ll worry about the NCAA tournament after the fact and we’re just proud that we’re able to say that we won the league and the playoff championship.
“I’m proud of these guys and especially the senior class, which has done so much to turn this program around.”