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March 27, 2009 E-MAIL PRINT Bookmark and Share

Midwest Regional Preview

by Courtney Lewis/CHN Reporter

Notre Dame is the second-ranked team in the country and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. But the Fighting Irish know they need to be wary of No. 4 seed Bemidji State — the Irish were a No. 4 seed last year, when they made a stirring run all the way to the national championship game.

Notre Dame is looking to make a second straight trip to the Frozen Four, but first it has to get out of the Midwest Regional at Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids, Mich., which also includes a Northeastern team making its first NCAA tournament appearance in 15 years and a Cornell squad that has been here frequently but hasn’t reached the final weekend since 1980.

No. 4 Bemidji State (18-15-1) vs. No. 1 Notre Dame (31-5-3), 7:30 p.m.

Notre Dame has emerged as an elite program over the last several years, and the Irish are eager to make that next step.

“I think two years ago, the seniors left a legacy of wining our first CCHA Championship, and last year’s seniors’ legacy was making our first Frozen Four,” current senior Erik Condra said. “But this year, we’ve done all those things, and I think the seniors want to leave a legacy of being the first Notre Dame team to win a national championship.”

The Irish, who owned a 20-game unbeaten streak earlier this season, have won their last 10. But the road to the NCAA tournament hasn’t been totally smooth. In last weekend’s CCHA semifinals, Northern Michigan tied the game with 1:23 left, and Notre Dame needed a late goal from Ben Ryan to advance. Then the Irish fell behind 2-0 to Michigan in the title game before scoring five unanswered goals.

Goaltender Jordan Pearce said that kind of poise is part of the team’s philosophy.

“I feel that’s kind of what we’ve been trying to build here as far as the program — be hard workers, don’t give up, do things the right way, be patient, be resilient,” Pearce, a senior, said. “I think that what we go through in the offseason, the workouts builds a lot of character, and I think Notre Dame attracts those kind of players. And it kind of spills over on the ice.

“We know things will go our way because we work hard and we don’t try to take shortcuts or try to do it by ourselves. We get through adversity as a team.”

Condra, a senior forward, leads the team with a 13-25-38 scoring line, and Calle Ridderwall, Christian Hanson, Kevin Deeth, and Billy Maday all have at least 30 points. Besides a potent offense, Notre Dame also boasts stingy defense — it leads the nation with 1.64 goals allowed per game — and is among the best in the country on both the power play and the penalty kill.

Pearce shut out Nebraska-Omaha in two games in the first round of the CCHA playoffs and then allowed three goals last weekend. He has a nation-leading 1.61 GAA and has 30 wins in his first season as Notre Dame’s starter.

The Irish have been both a high seed — they were almost upset by Alabama-Huntsville in the regional semifinals in 2007 — and an underdog in the NCAA playoffs. They’ve played blowouts and overtime games and last year lost 4-1 to Boston College in the championship game. Condra said those experiences should help them be prepared for anything.

Bemidji State has less recent history in the tournament — it has been here twice before, most recently in 2006 — and is still seeking its first win.

The Beavers lost six straight games early in the second half of this season but then got back on track and have dropped just two since then.

They beat Alabama-Huntsville in the CHA semifinals last weekend, and then Matt Read scored in overtime of the final against Robert Morris to give them a spot in the NCAA tournament.

Read, a sophomore forward, paces the Beavers with 35 points and is tied for the team lead in assists with 22. Tyler Scofield has a team-high 18 goals (including eight on the power play) among his 32 points, and freshman defenseman Brad Hunt has accumulated 31 points. Hunt and Read made the All-CHA First Team.

Sophomore Matt Dalton is 17-10-1 in net. He has a 2.25 GAA and a .918 save percentage.

Like Notre Dame, Bemidji State also has a strong power play — it ranks sixth in the nation with a 20.9-percent success rate. But it’s penalty kill lags behind at 24th.

The Beavers’ defense will need to clamp down Friday — they’ve won just two games this season when allowing more than two goals, and Notre Dame averages over three per game.

Bemidji and Notre Dame have never met before.

“From what we hear from Coach and from watching film, they’re a high-flying team; they’re not going to sit back,” Notre Dame’s Condra said. “They’re a No. 4 seed like we were last year, so they can play with a reckless abandon and not have anything to worry about. And we need to take this game seriously.”

No. 3 Cornell (21-9-4) vs. No. 2 Northeastern (25-11-4), 4 p.m.

Northeastern had a three-win season just three years ago and finished under .500 the last two. Now the Huskies are back in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1993-94.

They finished second in the Hockey East regular season after being passed on the final day by Boston University. They rallied to win the last two games of their Hockey East quarterfinal series with Massachusetts, including a 3-2 victory in overtime in the deciding game.

Then Northeastern was on the other side of a 3-2 overtime game against Massachusetts-Lowell in last weekend’s semifinals. The Huskies had a 2-0 lead until late in the second period.

“It’s one of those losses that stays with you for a couple of days,” coach Greg Cronin said. “... This is the third (part of the) season, and you have an opportunity to get to that final four, hopefully a national championship. So we’re excited to move forward. Everybody has documented and written about the number of years that Northeastern has been absent from the tournament, so I think we’re just excited to get after it and play Cornell out in Grand Rapids.”

While none of his players have been to the NCAA tournament, Cronin said he thinks the experience of playing under pressure in the Beanpot has helped prepare them.

Sophomore forward Wade MacLeod tops the team’s scoring list with 35 points, including 21 assists. Ryan Ginand, a senior, has lit the lamp a team-high 20 times and has 12 assists.

Brad Thiessen has been in net for Northeastern every minute this season. He sports a 2.09 GAA and a .932 save percentage. The junior was named Hockey East’s Player of the Year — the first Northeastern player to receive that accolade —and is also a Hobey Baker Award finalist.

“Brad won the (individual) awards because the goalie is the guy on the ice that has the biggest impact on the game,” Cronin said. “If there is one guy that really moved this program forward on the strength of his will power and his talent, it's Brad.”

Cronin, who’s in his fourth season at Northeastern, said the program’s return to the NCAA playoffs is a credit to everyone from past and present assistant coaches to the eight seniors who have stuck it out.

“This doesn't happen unless there is belief and a rhythm to the way we do things here,” Cronin said. “That's what happened; everyone has grabbed the vision that I tried to create when I first got here.

“The last piece of it is those seniors; they were here for three wins – 3-24-7. Those players never stopped believing in that vision. And without all those things Northeastern doesn't get to the point that it’s at now.”

Cornell ended its two-year absence in the NCAA playoffs by earning an at-large bid.

The Big Red finished second to Yale in the ECAC regular season and then were shut out 5-0 by the Bulldogs in the conference tournament championship game. They eliminated RPI in three games in the quarterfinals and then edged Princeton in double overtime in the semis.

Junior Ben Scrivens has backstopped Cornell to all 21 of its wins. He sits in the top five in the country in both GAA (1.77) and save percentage (.933), and he has posted six shutouts.

Offensively, sophomore Riley Nash leads the way with 13 goals and 21 assists. Colin Greening has a team-best 14 goals and is one of three other players with 25 points or more.

The Big Red like to get in front early. They’re 12-1 this season when leading after the first period and 17-1 when leading after two. But in the six times they’ve fallen behind in the first period, they haven’t been able to come back and win.

Although Cornell has given up 11 goals in its last three games, it averages just two goals allowed per night, which ranks fourth in the nation.

“They try and pound you into the boards, take the middle of the ice away and they don’t allow you the space to create some odd-man rushes,” Cronin said. “They’re very strong in the transitional game, and they try and play a wall game, basically.

“So we’re going to have our hands full.”
 

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