March 21, 2008 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Close to Perfect, But Not Close Enough

Notre Dame's Pearce Agonizes in Loss, as Notre Dame's NCAA Fate Hangs in the Balance

by Andy Reid/CHN Reporter

DETROIT — Jordan Pearce was 3.4 seconds away from the perfect game.

Against a Miami offense that currently ranks No. 1 in the nation with 4.3 goals per game, the Notre Dame goalie turned in 59 minutes and 57 seconds of the best hockey in his career, completely denying the RedHawks' forwards a good look at the net. But those extra ticks on the clock were all Miami needed.

Down 1-0 with 40 seconds left in the semifinal round of the CCHA Tournament, the RedHawks pulled goalie Jeff Zatkoff and launched a furious attack on the Fighting Irish crease. During the scrum around the net, Miami forward Ryan Jones ran into Pearce, knocking the junior over.

Before Pearce could compose himself, defenseman Mitch Ganzak tipped the puck over the pile of players building up around Pearce. The lamp lit, and the RedHawks jumped into a celebratory dogpile along the boards.

"Obviously, they called it a goal, so it got in there legally," said Pearce when he finally exited the Notre Dame locker room, nearly 30 minutes after the end of the game. "But I couldn't make the save. It was a good shot, and I didn't really see it. I kind of got taken out of the play, but when it's that late in the game, stuff like that happens."

Added Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson: "It was difficult. Any time you lose a game like that, it's pretty devastating. The kids are handling it pretty tough and I would expect them to. I couldn't ask anything more from their effort."

Pearce, who picked up CCHA Goalie of the Year honors during last night's awards ceremony, lay face down on the ice contemplating the goal long enough for the athletic trainers to run out to see if he was injured.

But the last-second desperation goal, or the subsequent goal Miami netted in overtime to take the 2-1 victory, doesn't take away from the awe-inspiring performance Pearce turned in through most of the contest.

In the first five minutes of the game, the RedHawks looked poised to take control, powering well-timed shot after well-timed shot at Pearce during their first power play opportunity of the night.

But Pearce made three diving saves, deflecting the puck on all three occasions to keep the game scoreless.

"The first save is usually the toughest," Pearce said of his early-game success. "Once you get into the flow of the game, it gets a little easier. That first power play, they had several good chances, and it help a lot with confidence, getting relaxed and just knowing, 'I got this today.'"

Although Pearce carried the Irish, who were severely outshot in the first period (11-2), through in the early goings, the Notre Dame defense calmed down in the second frame, blocking more shots and limiting the explosive Miami offense's chances.

Pearce, who held the RedHawks to just one goal in a Dec. 9 Notre Dame victory, compiled 26 saves, many of which were momentum-grabbing dives to slow down the Miami attack.

Even though Pearce let two heart-wrenching tallies find the back of the net down the stretch, Jackson didn't hesitate to praise his goalie's efforts against the powerful RedHawk offense.

"People still don't want to believe that he is the type of goaltender that I've been talking about for the last several months," Jackson said. "I think he's elevated his game. He's gotten better as the season has progressed. He wanted to do well here, and the thing is that he's learned to be able to handle the mental aspect of it a lot sooner than I expected him to just because, basically, he's never been through it before."

To make the NCAAs, Notre Dame should be OK with a win in the consolation game. But that requires regrouping in a hurry. Feel free to play with the scenarios using Pairwise Live Blog.

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