April 7, 2008 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Defining Moments: Notre Dame

by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor

It was a season with wide momentum swings for the Fighting Irish. These are their defining moments:

November split with Miami

Notre Dame had a magical run in 2006-07, but with goalie David Brown graduated and other changes, no one knew what to make of this season. The Irish's start to this season was a bit uneven, but on Nov. 9, it was clear that Notre Dame wasn't going to be a one-hit wonder.

The Irish defeated then-unbeaten Miami, 2-1, when Christian Hanson and Dan Kissel scored first-period goals. More importantly, despite getting outshot 22-8 over the final two periods, new No. 1 goaltender Jordan Pearce withstood the attack.

Miami won the next night, 3-1, but the split was a good signpost for the Irish.

Dec. 7-8, Sweep of Princeton

Notre Dame came into Princeton's Baker Rink and bombarded the Tigers for two games, leaving town with a 16-4 record and feeling good. Little did anyone know that the series would be a turning point of sorts for Princeton, as well, which went on a big roll from there on and made the NCAAs.

To that point in the season, though, Notre Dame, despite its good record, had a troubling trend of starting games very slowly. This also happened on Friday, though the Irish would defeat Princeton going away.

The next night, however, there was no such slow start. Notre Dame came out and scored five goals on its first 16 shots, en route to a shutout win.

Afterwards, Irish coach Jeff Jackson said that, despite the team's uneven start, key losses and seemingly magical run, that this year's team could be "better" than last year's squad.

Jan. 19, Michigan weekend

Still riding high, Notre Dame was soon confronted with a dosage of reality that — though it wasn't known at the time — sent the team into a two-month tailspin that left it as close as possible to falling off the cliff without going over.

For two straight weekends, Notre Dame played two of the best teams the CCHA had to offer, and came up short. The first, was an 0-1-1 weekend against Michigan State. That was followed up with a highly-anticipated weekend at Yost Arena against Michigan — the team it so happens to be playing in the NCAA semifinal.

On Friday, Notre Dame led 2-0, seeming to bounce back well from the one-point weekend against the Spartans. But with a Yost Arena crowd waiting to pounce, and a national TV audience watching, Kevin Porter scored 21 seconds into the second period and sent Michigan on the comeback trail. The game winner came with 21 seconds left in regulation, a fitting bookend.

Figuring to come out angry the next night, instead, in a portend of things to come, the Irish wilted, and got blown out at The Palace in Auburn Hills. And after another 0-for-4 night on the power play, Notre Dame had gone 42 straight chances without a PPG (it snapped the string the next weekend).

Notre Dame also tried Brad Phillips in net for the game, by far the biggest game among the five he played all year. He was pulled, and never played again this season.

"We played them tough at Yost arena," said Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson. "The next night at the Palace was kind of a wacky game for us and was one of the games that set us on our heels the second half."

March 28, Notre Dame 7, New Hampshire 3

Notwithstanding the two empty netters that sealed the win, this was as jaw-dropping a stunner as any game in the NCAA tournament so far.

After the 0-3-1 weekends against Michigan and Michigan State, the Irish's season had turned on a dime from greatness to horror. Notre Dame went 6-9-4 down the stretch of the season, going from first-place contenders to merely the best of the rest after the top three of Miami, Michigan and Michigan State. Limping into the playoffs, Notre Dame dropped the opener to Ferris State, before managing to eke out the series. That was only before losing two games at The Joe, with goals again difficult to come by, and hanging by a thread for the NCAAs.

Thanks to some mathematical machinations, the Irish wound up qualifying for the NCAAs, but had to play New Hampshire — a consistently very strong team all year — on a large ice sheet more suited to New Hampshire's game. And the Irish had to do this after losing top scorer Erik Condra to a season-ending injury in the CCHA tournament. The odds couldn't have been more stacked against them.

But that's when Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson reached into the bag of tricks, and summoned the will of his team to pull it together. Ryan Thang's goal 23 seconds into the third period was the team's fifth of the game, a stunner, and off went the Irish.

"Going into Christmas break, we had nine players that were in double digits in scoring," Jackson said. "Due to a number of factors — losing two freshmen defensemen — a number of our players lost some confidence and it really took away from the offensive production we had in the first half. More recently, we've been able to see a resurgence in some guys who were successful before Christmas."

The next night was hardly a foregone conclusion, but it had that air about it, with the Irish capping the Cinderella story by doing to Michigan State exactly what had been done to the Irish a year earlier — win the regional final by knocking off the favorite. It also avenged the one-point weekend from earlier this season.

Now Notre Dame has the chance to avenge that following weekend as well, and turn things completely 180 degrees back again.

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