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March 30, 2013 E-MAIL PRINT Bookmark and Share

End of the Rainbow

Notre Dame Can't Overcome Deficit This Time

by Avash Kalra/Senior Writer

TOLEDO, Ohio — Falling behind in a game isn’t something that’s necessarily novel for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, who skated into the Midwest Regional this weekend as the No. 1 seed after winning the final CCHA tournament championship a week ago.

At the CCHA Final Four in Detroit last weekend, Notre Dame overcame 1-0 deficits in both the semifinal (Ohio State) and final (Michigan), ultimately winning each by a 3-1 score. So on Saturday against St. Cloud, when the Huskies scored the game’s opening goal 11:32 into the opening period, there wasn’t initially much cause for concern on the Notre Dame bench.

Unlike last weekend’s performances, however, the Irish offense never responded – save for a momentary emotional surge in the first period when it seemed Notre Dame had scored the equalizer. Officials ultimately ruled that the would-be tying goal was kicked in by Irish center and captain Anders Lee.

Instead of Notre Dame engineering a familiar comeback, the No. 4 seed St. Cloud took advantage of a number of defensive mistakes to score three times in a 5:25 stretch in the second period. So by the time Mike Voran finally got Notre Dame on the board with a wrist shot over Huskies goaltender Ryan Faragher’s left shoulder with 12:16 to play, the game was well out of reach.

St. Cloud won by a final score of 5-1.

“I thought they did a really good job of clogging up the neural zone, and we turned pucks over,” said Notre Dame head coach Jeff Jackson. “It was a result of their offensive transition and doing a good job of clogging up the middle.

“I thought we were making too many mistakes with the puck through the neutral zone, and that makes us look slower.”

In the decisive stretch in the second period, freshman Joey Benik scored a power play goal into a gaping net after collecting a rebound to goaltender Steven Summerhays’ left. Within the next few minutes, Benik assisted on junior Cory Thorson’s goal, and the final dagger came shortly after – as Jonny Brodzinski scored his 22nd goal of the season, most among all rookies nationally, after converting on a well-executed 2-on-1 with fellow freshman Jimmy Murray.

Said a candid Lee afterwards, “It’s hard to come back from a four-goal deficit, especially at this time of the year.”

Summerhays, the Irish’s junior netminder who played almost 2100 minutes of hockey between the pipes for Notre Dame this season, allowed the first four of the Huskies’ goals while his counterpart, St. Cloud sophomore Ryan Faragher made 17 saves in the win.

Mostly to provide a spark for the team rather than a reprimand to the netminder, Jackson pulled Summerhays, who was replaced by senior Mike Johnson for the final period of the game – and, as it would turn out, Johnson’s career.

It was also the final game for fellow seniors Sam Calabrese, Nick Larson, and Kevin Nugent. Next year, the current colossal junior class of 12 players will become the team’s most veteran members. That class led Notre Dame to a Frozen Four as freshmen in 2011.

“Four great kids,” said Jackson, who was looking for his sixth career Frozen Four as a coach after leading Lake Superior there in 1992, 1993, and 1994, and Notre Dame in 2008 and 2011. “I’m extremely proud of them and their careers. They were good citizens off the ice. They were great as far as coaching them on a day-to-day basis. They’ve maintained a good attitude during their entire careers. Strong character kids.”

With the loss, Notre Dame falls to 6-6 all-time in the NCAA tournament. And the Irish become the second No. 1 seed of the weekend to fall in the first round.

“I’m proud of this group of kids regardless,” said Jackson. “They had a good season – not good enough. Plain and simple. Until our program wins a national championship, I won’t feel like we’ve accomplished what we’ve set out to do.”

NOTES: After the game, a frustrated Jackson – a day after praising the facilities at Toledo’s Huntington Center – criticized the atmosphere for the game, commenting that the TV timeouts seemed to drag on.

The stands were more than half empty for the game.

“This is the NCAA tournament,” said Jackson. “You guys have seen the basketball tournament. You’d think there’d be a better environment. I’m sure it’s the same up in Grand Rapids.”

“How would you change it?” asked a reporter at the press conference.

“Not for me to decide,” said Jackson, before pausing. “Campus sites, maybe.”

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©2014 Avash Kalra. All Rights Reserved.