Coming into the NCAA tournament, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish had struggled offensively. Since losing top scorer Erik Condra in the third game of the CCHA first-round playoffs against Ferris State, the Fighting Irish had only mustered one goal in each game of the CCHA final rounds.
In fact, their offensive malaise extended beyond that. Since scoring three goals in a 5-3 loss to Ferris State on February 8, the Irish had scored more than two goals only twice in 12 games, and had been held to only one goal or less in six of those games.
However, with Condra out for the season, few people gave the Fighting Irish much off a chance against the high-flying New Hampshire Wildcats.
With the Fighting Irish trailing 2-1 late in the first period, things didn’t look good for head coach Jeff Jackson’s club. However, on a power play, Kyle Lawson fired a shot over UNH goaltender Kevin Regan’s left shoulder at 17:25, giving the Irish some confidence.
“That’s where our team was before Erik got hurt,” said Jackson. “Really that has nothing to do with it. Erik was a tremendous player in all aspects of the game for us, but other guys have had to elevate their games in certain situations to help cover for him. I think when we were firing on all cylinders in the first half of the year, we had the same thing.
“We had nine guys that all had double-digit points and something happened with our confidence in the second half of the season that hurt us, but there’s been signs that we’ve started to shake out of it and the timing couldn’t be better for us to be more productive offensively.”
In fact, it was playing all 20 minutes of each period that helped the Irish to their stunning 7-3 victory over UNH.
At the 2:39 mark of the second, Christian Hanson fired it past Regan. Leading 4-3 going into the third, Ryan Thang scored at the 23-second mark to give the Irish the two-goal cushion again.
“I think coming into the game, we wanted to get off to a good start,” said Notre Dame captain Mark Van Guilder. “I think it was huge for our power play to come back and get some goals. I thought they played really well in the first period, so our power play coming back and responding was huge.”
“It’s kind of nice to have a two-goal cushion, but kind of in my mind, I play like we’re tied or one goal down,” said Fighting Irish goaltender Jordan Pearce, who finished with 32 saves. “That way, I keep focused. As of late, in the third period we’ve been down or tied, so it’s nice to have a two-goal lead, but you can’t really dwell on it.”
In all, six different Notre Dame players scored.
“We’re trying to build a tradition at Notre Dame,” said Jackson. “We want to be like Colorado College, we want to be like UNH, we want to be like Michigan and Minnesota, that are in the tournament every year and have a chance to win.”
With the win, Jackson’s club took a huge step in that direction.