March 23, 2007
Midwest Regional | First Round
A Near Miss at History
Notre Dame escaped the big upset, while Michigan State bounced back to rout BU

By James Jahnke

Notre Dame 3,
Alabama-Huntsville 2 2OT
Team Goal Str
Time Assists
First Period
1-ND Josh Sciba (8) EV
3:18 Unassisted
2-ND Ryan Thang (19) EV
4:26 E. Condra

Second Period

1-AH Dominik Rozman (6) EV
10:20 J. Murray
2-AH Cale Tanaka (2) EV
16:06 T. Train
Third Period
No scoring
First Overtime
No scoring

Second Overtime

3-ND Ryan Thang (20) PP
15:18 K. Lawson, B. Blatchford
Goaltending
AH: Blake MacNichol, 4:26, 1 save, 2 GA; Marc Narduzzi, 90:52, 49 saves, 1 GA
ND: David Brown, 95:18, 28 saves, 2 GA
Penalties: AH 6/12; ND 2/4
Power Plays: AH 0-2; ND 1-6
Attendance: 5,201

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – The mere fact that media types were talking about Holy Cross’ year-old upset of Minnesota after dinnertime Friday night was a testament to what Alabama-Huntsville did at the NCAA Midwest Regional at Van Andel Arena.

The Chargers were one bounce away from a stunner that would have rivaled The Shot Heard ’Round Grand Forks last spring. But after nearly five periods of hockey, top-seeded Notre Dame finally put away the feisty Chargers, 3-2, on freshman Ryan Thang’s winning goal 15:18 into double overtime.

It was a classic game, with the Fighting Irish scoring two suspect goals in the first five minutes, prompting UAH to pull goalie Blake MacNicol. Senior Marc Narduzzi came on and kept the Irish at bay, allowing the Big Blue to tie it up with a pair late in the second. Then came many minutes of scoreless hockey, which both thrilled and annoyed the crowd that was anticipating the home-state Spartans in the nightcap.

“My gut’s killing me right now,” Notre Dame bench boss Jeff Jackson said. “Games like that, it almost seems surreal, you don’t have any emotion left.”

The view was similar from the other bench, where UAH’s Doug Ross wrapped up a 25-year career.

“I think we represented our school very well,” the retiring coach said after his first Division I tourney appearance. “We played with all of the heart and all of the spirit we had. It was a great moment in my life.”

Kevin Deeth watches Ryan Thang's game-winner beat Marc Narduzzi.

Yet it wasn’t enough. Thang’s second goal of the game was a beauty, as he walked off the boards, declined to pass to defenseman Brett Blatchford, who was cocked for a one-timer, and fired a wrister from the high slot that beat Narduzzi high on his blocker side to give Notre Dame its first NCAA tournament win ever.

“He was just on fire with his glove, so I knew I had to go high-blocker,” Thang said. “I kind of lost it on the way, but then I saw the water bottle fly up.”

Narduzzi, who made 49 saves, thinks he should have had it.

“He disappeared for a second, then reappeared,” Narduzzi said. “It was a good shot, but, in all honesty, I should have stopped it. I don’t know if fatigue played a role, but it wasn’t one of the harder shots I saw.”

Michigan State 5,
Boston University 1

Team Goal Str
Time Assists
First Period
1-BU Ryan Weston (2) EV
6:05 M. Gilroy, L. Popko
1-MSU Tim Kennedy (16) PP
12:51 Unassisted

Second Period

2-MSU Tim Crowder (13) EV
1:11 T. Kennedy, T. Howells
3-MSU Jay Sprague (3) EV
5:22 E. Grahan, N. Sucharski
4-MSU Daniel Vukovic (7) EV
17:19 B. Lerg, C. Mueller
Third Period
5-MSU Tim Crowder (14) EV
8:04 J. Dunne, T. Howells
Goaltending
MSU: Jeff Lerg, 60:00, 27 saves, 1 GA
BU: John Curry, 60:00, 21 saves, 5 GA
Penalties: MSU 8/16; BU 10/42
Power Plays: MSU 1-7; BU 0-6
Attendance: 5,201

SPARTY PARTY

For the first half of the first period of Friday’s finale, Boston University looked like it was going to Zamboni the ice with Michigan State’s carcass. The Terriers were big, fast and dangerous.

Then MSU got a lucky bounce of the end boards, Tim Kennedy deposited the puck with a neat backhand and BU, in coach Jack Parker’s words, “disintegrated.” The result was a surprisingly lopsided 5-1 Spartan win that set up an all-CCHA regional final.

“The first period was the most tired I’ve been all year,” Kennedy said. “I didn’t think I’d have enough to finish the last two periods.”

But the Spartans did, and then some. After Kennedy’s goal forged a 1-1 tie midway through the first, MSU simply poured it on. Tim Crowder added two tallies, including a breakaway after a marathon breakout pass from Tyler Howells that made folks wonder how the NHL ever outlawed the two-line pass.

“It was a weird game to watch us play,” Parker said. “We were a bit legless, but the difference in the game was that we didn’t finish our chances, and we just gave them theirs. The goals came from an inability in our own zone. It was unbelievable to see us implode like that. After those (first) two (goals), we just watched.”

Following the double-overtime opener, the final horn didn’t sound until about 12:30 a.m.

“Now we’ve got to get ’em something to eat and get ’em to bed,” MSU coach Rick Comley said. “It’s amazing to start a game at 10 o’clock. I go to bed at 10 o’clock.”

SEEN AND HEARD AT VAN ANDEL ARENA

INCH's Three Stars of the Night

3. Marc Narduzzi, Alabama-Huntsville
The senior goalie came on in relief about five minutes into the game, already trailing, 2-0. He stopped the first 49 shots he saw and gave UAH as much of a chance to win as it could have asked for.

2. Tim Kennedy, Michigan State
He scored Sparty's first goal on a wicked backhander, then set up linemate Tim Crowder for another with a great pass from the far boards that hit Crowder's tape a split-second before he would have been too deep into the crease to direct it home.

1. Ryan Thang, Notre Dame
The dynamic freshman left wing was the most dangerous player on the ice Friday, netting two of Notre Dame's three goals, including the winner in double overtime.

• Overheard during a rendition of “Sweet Home Alabama” by UAH’s band: “Is that their fight song?”

• Best omen for the Irish: the UPS advertisement with the “What can BROWN do for you” slogan that hovered over goaltender David Brown’s left shoulder in the first and third periods and both overtimes.

• The UAH band seemed to outnumber the tried-and-true Charger fans in the building (not counting the folks just cheering for an upset), but the bandos more than made up for the tiny turnout with their spirit. The best – and weirdest – chant had to be the spelling out of “The University of Alabama in Huntsville” in the style of “Gimme a T,” “Gimme an H.” It was almost as long as the game.

• Speaking of bands, each team brought one. As they should.

• Red Wings defenseman and Irish alum Brett Lebda was in the house.

• There was no meat at the media dinner. Oh, right, Notre Dame was in town on a Friday.

• CCHA commissioner Tom Anastos is heading to Wrestlemania next week at Ford Field to scout configuration models for the 2010 Frozen Four.

Tim Kennedy backhands MSU's first goal past John Curry.

• Brown wasn’t nearly as scruffy as his Irish teammates. Apparently, he trims his playoff beard. “It’s a little different with a mask pressed up against your face.”

• Even from the upper reaches of Van Andel, it’s striking how BIG the Terrier defensemen are.

• BU finished the game with just 16 skaters. Defenseman Tom Morrow got a game misconduct for hitting from behind in the second, and center Luke Popko got one for spearing in the third.

PLUSSES AND MINUSES

Big thanks to Neil Koepke of the Lansing State Journal for loaning INCH his backup laptop to file this report.

It’s hard to believe that Huntsville was statistically one of the worst defensive teams in the country this season. On Friday, the Chargers displayed good sticks and showed a penchant and willingness for blocking shots. The hustle more or less summed up their overall effort in coach Doug Ross’ last game. “I hope, when I retire, my team plays like that for me,” ND coach Jeff Jackson said.

The attendance checked in somewhere near mediocre, with almost as many folks in the stands for the early game as the late, when the nearby Spartans were featured. Officially, there were 5,201 butts in the seats.

While Alabama-Huntsville played quite well Friday, there’s still that ever-present pall around the program as its league, College Hockey America, faces an uncertain future. The general feeling of those in the know doesn’t bode well for the five-team league’s future, and there’s much consternation about its programs beyond next season.

Too bad the Sparty band used the “Warm up the bus” chant at the end of the game. Jackie Parker ain’t busing from New England to Lake Michigan.

WHAT'S NEXT

Cale Tanaka scored through traffic for Alabama-Huntsville to tie the score at 2-2 and set the stage for the two-overtime finish.

Notre Dame and Michigan State split their season series, 1-1, with each team winning at home. ND coach Jeff Jackson, an MSU alumnus, would like his team to play as aggressively as it did against UAH, but that is a riskier strategy against a skilled team. The faceoff for Saturday’s regional final is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. (and this one will start on time).

The Chargers end the season at 13-20-3, and they’ll enter the 2007-08 campaign with a new coach and a fairly young lineup. Eight seniors played their last game in blue and white on Friday, including UAH’s top six scorers and No. 1 goalie. The school will conduct a national search for a new coach, with the goal of hiring somebody by late April or May. The top internal candidate is assistant coach Lance West.

Boston University suited up just five seniors Friday, foremost among them all-star goalie John Curry and captain Sean Sullivan. Much of the team’s offensive firepower, limited as it is, will return barring early defections.