March 16, 2007 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Jakaitis Heroic In Defeat

by James V. Dowd/CHN Reporter

DETROIT — When this year's CCHA regular season was all said and done, it was Notre Dame's David Brown who ended up as the CCHA player of the year and the first team all-conference netminder.

But taking a look at the No. 1 Fighting Irish's 3-0 victory over Lake Superior State in this evening's CCHA semifinal, it became apparent just how close the race for top dog between Brown and Lakers' netminder Jeff Jakaitis actually was.

Jakaitis turned away 26 of the 28 shots he faced before an empty-net goal sealed his team's place in Saturday's third-place game.

One certainly can't put the blame on Jakaitis in a game where his offense managed just 17 shots, with very few good chances on Brown. Time and time again, the senior was relied upon to make saves through traffic as Notre Dame's defensemen peppered him from the blue line.

Both of the Irish goals came on shots where Jakaitis was almost completely screened. On the first goal by Wes O'Neill, Jakaitis gave the shooter his glove side, but O'Neill made the intelligent choice, shooting it through several Lake Superior State defensemen to Jakaitis' blind stick side.

One reason that the Lakers struggled was a size discrepancy.

"The one area that concerned us all week was that (Notre Dame is) stronger than us physically right now," LSSU coach Jim Roque said. "We have four freshmen back there on defense that had a hard time down low, that's something that they have that concerned us."

For much of the game, the Lakers looked much like a mini-mite team, as they crowded the slot and the area surrounding the goal crease, giving Notre Dame the chance to methodically set up outside shots — a strategy which paid off for the Fighting Irish one more time in the second period.

Junior defenseman Brock Sheahan, who had scored just two career goals going into the game, found the back of the net on a long redirection.

As much as Sheahan is enjoying his playoff success — two of his three goals have come this postseason — he was simply taking advantage of Lake Superior State's crowding habits.

"There was a lot of traffic and I couldn't even see where Jakaitis was because of all the traffic in front of the net," Sheahan said. "I was just trying to shoot blocker side, and it happened to hit off his leg and go blockerside."

It is games like these which have endeared Jakaitis to his teammates, coaches and fans over the years. Even with an inexperienced team in front of him — the Lakers had four freshmen defensemen this season — Jakaitis has never given less than his best.

As he broke into tears remembering a season in which his program has come so far, Roque expressed optimism that Jakaitis' teammates will come out strong for him on Saturday — his last hurrah as a Laker.

"The one thing I can tell you, this guy right here, we owe this guy a game tomorrow," Roque said, pointing to Jakaitis. "I know our team's going to bring it tomorrow, they'll play their hearts out. They'll want to do it for Jeff, and Jeff deserves it. I know they will, there's a lot of respect in our room and I know they let Jeff down by not scoring any goals today."

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