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March 24, 2013 E-MAIL PRINT Bookmark and Share

Notre Dame Caps Reversal of Fortune

Pulled Out of Slump This Time, And Rolled to CCHA Championship

by Caleb Saunders/CHN Reporter

DETROIT — Last season, Notre Dame went through a tumultuos second-half tumble that left them grasping for answers. This season, when a mid-season stumble came, the Irish knew how to right the ship.

The end result was an eight-game unbeaten streak that started in late February, and has taken them, so far, to a CCHA tournament championship. The win will also get the Irish a top seed in the NCAAs.

“It all started with maturity," Notre Dame goalie Steven Summerhays said. "It kind of happened last year and we packed it in.”

Said junior center Anders Lee, who scored the team's first goal, “We stuck together as a team, and that’s been the reason why we were in this game today. We faced a five-game losing streak during the middle of the regular season, but we were so close in the locker room that it wasn’t going to get to our heads. For us to go out there and win the last CCHA Championship is very special to us.”

The game also marked the end of the CCHA, making the whole moment somewhat surreal as well. Jackson won four CCHA championships as a coach at Lake Superior State, and now three with Notre Dame. He ends third behind two coaching legends, Ron Mason, for whom the regular-season trophy is named after, and Red Berenson, his opponent in Sunday's championship game.

"It's only fitting that our last time here at The Joe, we in it," Jackson said. "There's been so many great games here, whether it was with Lake State of Notre Dame. I have great respect for Michigan, and we hope to emulate what they've done."

If Notre Dame does, it will be as a member of Hockey East going forward, but that discussion is for another day.

Instead, Sunday was about a championship. And to do it, Notre Dame had to defeat a Michigan team that was on a Cinderella charge from a miserable regular season, to a great stretch drive. The Wolverines, coming from the seven seed, like it did in winning the 2010 tournament, was trying to preserve a 22-season streak of NCAA tournament participation.

Notre Dame again played an excellent defensive game anchored by the junior goaltender Summerhays. Despite facing just 21 shots, the netminder was able to keep his head in the game, which is difficult when you don’t see a sustained attack by the opposition.

That paid off late in the third period, when Michigan was pressing.

“It’s tough when you’re a goalie and you’re only facing three or four shots a period and then they get a flurry here or there,” said Summerhays.

At the other end, Michigan's Steve Racine was managing to keep Notre Dame off the board early, until Lee broke through.

“(Steve Racine) was a wall in the beginning of the game, and pretty much the whole tournament,” said Lee. “For us to get that first (goal) was more than a relief. It got us on the board to tie up the game and give some confidence to the boys, because we were pumping shots left and right, so for us to finally get one was definitely a huge break for us.”

The Wolverines had just 10 shots on goal through the first two periods, but tallied 11 in the final frame. Summerhays had to make a series of great stops to preserve a 2-1 lead.

Said Summerhays, “I knew Michigan was going to make a push in the third.”

Summerhays made a total of 36 saves on the weekend, allowing just two goals to two formidable opponents, one of which put six up against the second ranked defense in the country.

Said Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson, “He [Summerhays] didn’t have a lot of work early on in either game. I’d rather him get some shots early on so he gets into his comfort zone. He made some great saves when we needed him in the end. That’s what you need to win a championship. You’ve got to have a goalie who can make that save when the game is on the line.”

Notre Dame’s conference championship came during a season in which consistency waned during the middle portion of the campaign. Ironically, according to Summerhays, the turnaround that the Irish needed came in s series against Michigan.

“I think ever since we actually played Michigan at home about a month and a half ago is kind of where it started to turn the page and build to where I was playing at the level I played at the first half of the season,” said Summerhays.

That also happened to be Michigan's low point. It got itself turned around shortly thereafter.

In all, Notre Dame wound up winning all five meetings against Michigan this season.

Said junior forward TJ Tynan, “We suffered a similar stretch last year we couldn’t quite get out of but this year we’re out of it. We just kind of worked hard. ... We were looking to hang banners and make memories.”

The Fighting Irish go into the NCAAs on a roll, and as a top seed. However, the first plan was to win the CCHA Championship, because coming in, Notre Dame wasn't even secured an NCAA bid at all.

“All we have to do is enjoy this for 24 hours and then move forward to wherever we may go,” said Jackson.

“The team did everything that we asked of them and beyond. I thought it got us just about ready for (the NCAA tournament). You know, paying the price and putting it on the line, and doing what they had to do to be successful against two good teams. We’re just proud to be able to raise another banner at the Compton Center. So, I’m happy for these guys.”

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