Title Marks Perfect Ending for Irish
by James V. Dowd/CHN Reporter
DETROIT It was the perfect end to the perfect season in South Bend.
All year long, the Fighting Irish have dominated the CCHA, seemingly coming out on top in every close game. Perhaps a crowning example was a 4-3 victory over Michigan in December where Notre Dame scored twice in 30 seconds to give itself a victory and commanding lead in the CCHA standings on their home ice.
It was fitting then, that the Fighting Irish — on St. Patrick's Day nonetheless — finished off their CCHA season with a come-from-behind 2-1 victory over the Wolverines at Joe Louis Arena Saturday night.
"It means a lot to see our team win," Notre Dame forward Jason Paige said. "That's something that we've done all season and one thing we did tonight is play as a team. It took all four lines. It took big saves from David, which we have had all year. He's been able to us be in a position to win games like that against top-caliber teams like the Wolverines."
Michigan's Kevin Porter opened the scoring with six seconds remaining in the opening frame on a blast from the slot which was behind goaltender David Brown before he knew what happened.
Yet, in the spirit of the Magic of the Irish, Notre Dame fought back with a goal in the second and one in the third to earn their first-ever CCHA Tournament championship.
"Throughout the year, we've given up goals, we've been down," forward Erik Condra said. "And it seems like every time we're just calm and coach keeps us calm on the bench, you can't get too high or too low."
Trailing 1-0, but still level-headed, Notre Dame's Kevin Deeth worked the puck behind Michigan's net, feigning a wraparound to the right before turning back to the left. Looking up, Deeth found Condra all alone in the slot — the mark of a winning team.
Condra blasted the puck past Sauer and brought Notre Dame's fans to life.
As for the winning goal, some would see it as lucky, but being able to capitalize on an opponent's mistake is exactly what has made the Irish so successful all year long.
The ability to capitalize on these opportunities is no coincidence with the arrival of Jeff Jackson as Notre Dame's coach. Brown talked after the victory about how Jackson has transformed the program and helped each and every player buy into his style of play.
"As soon as coach came, he instilled a sense of professionalism that he brought with him," Brown said. He really helped us to regain that pride in the program that we were missing. He really changed the culture that we had. And we improved that tonight. We have everyone take more pride in the Irish uniform."
Jackson certainly has the credibility that few coaches can bring. In just his seventh eighth season as a head coach, Jackson has won 226 games, and led Lake Superior State to two national championships.
"(Jackson) has been successful at every level of hockey," Brown said. "And he brought that great knowledge to our program. He brought that every position: myself in goal, offense, defense. The guys have really bought into that system, playing with that extra sense of pride."
It is this pride which will serve the Fighting Irish well as they head into the NCAA tournament as the nation's top-ranked team.