West Regional | Final
of the Irish
Notre Dame’s roller coaster ride
continues all the way to Denver for first Frozen Four appearance
Michigan State 1
Kennedy, T. Crowder
Van Guilder (12)
White, C. Hanson
Jordan Pearce, 60:00, 20 saves, 1 GA
Jeff Lerg, 59:13, 23 saves, 3 GA
ND 4/8; MS 5/10
Plays: ND 0-4; MS 0-3
Jeff Lerg, Michigan State
D: Jeff Petry, Michigan State
D: Brock Sheahan, Notre Dame
F: Justin Abdelkader, Michigan State
F: Christian Hanson, Notre Dame
F: Mark Van Guilder, Notre Dame
Most Outstanding Player: Van Guilder
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Cinderella
is wearing a new slipper this NCAA tournament season, and
it goes great with the golden dome.
Coming into the West Regional as the fourth
seed and pretty much an afterthought by most of college
hockey’s prognosticators, the Notre Dame Fighting
Irish lived up to its name by knocking off the defending
national champions from Michigan State University with a
3-1 victory on Saturday night.
In the span of 1:14 late in the third period,
the Irish staked its claim to its first Frozen Four appearance
and will draw CCHA rival Michigan when the puck drops at
the Pepsi Center in Denver on April 10.
It will mark the Fighting Irish’s first
trip to the Frozen Four, and is also the first time since
the inception of the new NCAA tournament format in 2003
that a fourth seed has advanced to college hockey’s
“We came into the tournament thinking
that we had nothing to lose and decided to just let it all
hang out,” said senior captain Mark Van Guilder, who
was named the Western Regionals most outstanding player.
Van Guilder and Teddy Ruth scored 74 seconds
apart late in the third period to snap a 1-1 tie and prove
that Spartans’ seemingly impenetrable defensive, led
by junior goaltender Jeff Lerg, does indeed have a few cracks.
“At 1-1, you knew the next goal was
critical, and we turned the puck over and they capitalized,”
said Spartans head coach Rick Comley.
After knocking off the No. 1 seeded University
of New Hampshire Wildcats on Friday night, the Irish knew
what to expect from the Spartans, as the two schools were
meeting for the 100th time in their 87-year history. The
Spartans hold a 59-31-9 advantage, but on this night it
was the Irish and their unheralded goaltender Jordan Pearce
who would be left to circle the World Arena ice in celebration.
Despite a case of the flu that kept him from
practicing all week, Pearce saved his best for last, especially
with the Spartans turning up the heat in the final moments.
“I did what I had to do to win the game,”
said Pearce, who turned aside 20 shots, including 10 in
the first period. “After watching from the bench last
year I learned that you have to play your best games at
the biggest moments.”
Despite holding a 1.94 goals-against average,
which ranks sixth nationally, Pearce came to Colorado Springs
as the odd goalie out when it came to publicity. All the
Anchorage native did was outplay two Hobey Baker finalists
in Kevin Regan of UNH and Lerg.
“I don’t have to worry about my
game. Numbers are just numbers,” said Pearce. “I
just wanted to play well and get a win for the boys. It’s
the least I can do for them.”
Last year it was the Spartans who escaped
from an NCAA Regional in Grand Rapids, Mich., at the expense
of the Irish. This year the skate was on the other foot.
“They were hungry and they capitalized
on mistakes when it counted,” said Lerg, who was named
to the all-tournament team. “We know how it feels
to be on the winning side and we know how it feels to be
on the losing side.”
After a scoreless opening frame, Christian
Hanson put the Irish on the board when he followed his own
rebound on a wrap-around attempt and poked the puck past
a sprawling Lerg.
The lead held up until almost the midway mark
of the period when Justin Abdelkader redeemed himself for
ringing a blast off the crossbar when he one-timed a Tim
Kennedy pass in the slot past Pearce.
The Irish thought they had regained the lead
when Kevin Deeth’s shot from the point handcuffed
Lerg and Evan Rankin was there to poke it home. The off-ice
officials ruled that Dan Kissel was in the crease.
“It was a tough call but we’ve
had it happen a few times to us this year,” said Van
Guilder. “We knew whatever the decision that we had
to go on and keep on battling. You can’t let something
like that kill your momentum.”
For Jeff Jackson, who is leading the Irish
to its first Frozen Four in only his third year on the job,
it’s all part of what has been a dream come true.
“When the Notre Dame job became available,
I knew that was where I wanted to be. I wanted to go there
when I was 17 but I couldn’t afford it,” the
Roseville, Mich., native said. “I love the strong
tradition and grew up a huge Knute Rockne fan.
“My belief is that we can have the same
tradition in hockey even though Notre Dame will always be
a football school. But so what, so is Michigan and so is
AND HEARD AT THE WORLD ARENA
INCH's Three Stars of the Night
Justin Abdelkader, Michigan State
State’s sparkplug forward scored one goal and
rang another shot off the crossbar while playing his
usual two-way game.
Mark Van Guilder, Notre Dame
The senior captain of the Fighting Irish
never let his teammates give up and came through the
eventual game winner at 15:20 of the final period.
Jordan Pearce, Notre Dame
Despite suffering from the flu all week,
the Irish’s sophomore goalie stepped up big
and outplayed the other three heralded goalies in
the West Regional.
• Jeff Lerg, a native of Livonia, Mich.,
has always had a soft spot in his heart for Colorado Springs.
And why not? He’s always left town loaded down with
accolades and awards compliments of USA Hockey. Lerg won
the Dave Peterson Goalie of the Year and Junior Player of
the Year awards in 2005, and followed that up last year
by garnering College Player of the Year honors.
“It’s definitely exciting for
me to come to Colorado Springs. USA Hockey has been pretty
good to me over the years. I hope to add another trophy
[and] the West Regional would be a good one to take home,”
Lerg said prior to Friday night’s game.
• Sparty, the Michigan State mascot,
received a much warmer reception on Saturday night than
he did before MSU took on Colorado College. Of course, with
the building half full at game time, even the Zamboni drivers
received a nice round of applause.
• Prior to Friday’s seven-goal
offensive outburst, Notre Dame had scored just four goals
in its previous three games. With three goals against a
stingy Spartans defense, the Irish may want to bottle some
of that Colorado Springs high-altitude air and bring it
with them up the road to Denver in two weeks.
• Part of the perks of coaching at
Notre Dame is meeting some of the school’s greatest
players and coaches.
“I’ve become good friends with
Charlie Weis and I’ve met Lou Holtz and Joe Montana,”
said Irish head hockey coach Jeff Jackson.
• Jackson is a 1978 Michigan State graduate.
Michigan State coach Rick Comley's daughter, Gillian, is
a Notre Dame graduate.
fans in Colorado Springs could have easily packed it in
after the Tigers fell to Michigan State on Friday night.
Instead, 5,836 showed up to see Saturday night’s West
Abdelkader played his typically strong game at both ends
of the ice, scoring the Spartans’ lone goal, hitting
the crossbar on another attempt and was an effective penalty
part of his aggressive style, Abdelkader also took three
penalties, including one late in the game when the Spartans
needed him most.
compliments to the media dining room staff for going above
and beyond by serving both chicken and beef fajitas on Saturday
night. The dinner sure beat the hockey pucks swimming in
brown water they served as hamburgers the night before.
The last time the West Regional was held in
Colorado Springs was in 2004, when another improbable winner
emerged – Denver ousted top-ranked North Dakota in
the regional final and ended up winning the whole shebang
in Boston two weeks later.
Notre Dame is similar to that Denver squad
in many regards. Both teams carried on despite losing top
scorers late in the season (DU played without Connor James,
while the Irish are without Erik Condra.) Both leaned on
goalies who didn't become full-time starters until late
in their careers – Denver's Adam Berkhoel became the
main man as a senior, while junior Jordan Pearce had played
in 12 games prior to this season.
Most notable, however, are the similarities
in styles. Like that DU team, the Irish, as a whole, are
greater than the sum of their parts. They got contributions
from everyone in the lineup. And they're playing loose because,
hey, no one expects 'em to be here. Notre Dame will be heavy
underdogs to Michigan in the Frozen Four semifinal. One
gets the sense that's just fine with the Irish.
The ending is a disappointing one for Michigan
State. One night after thoroughly outplaying Colorado College
in its home rink, the Spartans looked uninspired against
Notre Dame and appeared particularly listless in the third
period. MSU loses a handful of key seniors to graduation
– forwards Bryan Lerg and Chris Mueller and defensemen
Jeff Dunne and Daniel Vukovic among them. There's also a
strong possibility junior forwards Justin Abdelkader and
Tim Kennedy could leave school early to embark on professional
— Mike Eidelbes