March 22, 2009 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Clash of the Titans

Irish Rally Past Wolverines to Capture CCHA Crown

by Nicole Auerbach /CHN Reporter

DETROIT — Notre Dame isn’t really used to playing the comeback role.

The nation’s top-ranked team, the Fighting Irish often jump on opponents early and play very conservatively to maintain their lead.

Michigan had almost perfected its own blueprint for success.

The Wolverines like to score early, score often and dominate time of possession.

Things didn’t quite go according to plan tonight for either team, but the Irish were able to adjust — and that was the difference in the contest. Notre Dame beat Michigan 5-2 in the CCHA Championship game at Joe Louis Arena.

Both teams are NCAA tournament-bound — that was never in question. In fact, both will be No. 1 seeds. So this game simply came down to a battle for a league tournament championship between two titans.

The Irish scrapped their way back into the contest after falling behind the Wolverines 2-0 early. Then they took it over, scoring five unanswered goals on Michigan sophomore goalie Bryan Hogan, including four in the third period.

Notre Dame made it look easy, flicking shot after shot into the back of the net. Hogan has given up goals in bunches quite a few times this season, but he had been playing well heading into the championship game. The four-goal period was the worst of Hogan’s career.

And what made the loss more heartbreaking for the Wolverines was that they had full control of the game for at least the first 30 minutes. Then, during 4-on-4 play, Irish forward Billy Maday changed the momentum with one flick of the wrist to put Notre Dame on the board.

“We were down 2-0, but we didn’t feel like we were down 2-0,” Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson said. “I thought the kids were playing pretty well. It was just a matter of being patient enough to get some scoring chances, which Michigan didn’t give up many early on. But once we caught a break and Maday scored, it kind of changed the tide for us.”

Still, even after Maday’s tally, Michigan clung to a one-goal lead entering the final period. The Wolverines were confident that their underrated defense could maintain that lead and perhaps their offense could even add to it.

But the Irish came out of the second intermission strong, scoring two goals in the first two minutes to take the lead they would never relinquish.

“We wanted to get the lead in this game and we did,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “Obviously, you want to have the lead going into the third and we did. But an untimely faceoff goal was huge in the third period that got them back into the game. Then, 20 seconds later another goal, a back-breaking goal, gave them the momentum.”

Tonight’s game was just another episode in the ongoing rivalry between the two programs. In even just the past two years, the Wolverines and Irish have played some thrillers — most that have gone in the Irish’s favor.

Michigan defeated Notre Dame 2-1 in South Bend on Jan. 28, which snapped the Irish’s 20-game unbeaten streak. That victory validated the legitimacy of the Wolverines’ second-half success, and the win gave Michigan confidence it could beat any team in the nation.

Tonight’s loss left a sour taste in the mouths of Wolverines and questioned that earlier confidence.

Last April, Michigan’s meltdown in the Frozen Four semifinal game against Notre Dame cost it the chance at a national championship. The Irish had snuck into the Tournament, and the upset win stung.

Two years ago, Michigan fell to Notre Dame in the CCHA Championship game, a surprising loss at Joe Louis Arena. The Wolverines were 9-0 at the Joe between that loss to Notre Dame and tonight’s. The arena had turned into a sort of second home, giving Michigan luck against seemingly everyone except the Irish.

Clearly, each loss to Notre Dame hurts.

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