Even as ND has won just once in its last seven games, Friday's tie with fifth-ranked UMass-Lowell showcased more growth for this young Fighting Irish team. Although the visiting River Hawks outshot Notre Dame, the Irish probably feel like a chance at a big win got away from them, as both UML goals were somewhat fluky and a controversial goal reversal kept the Irish from taking the lead late.
Mario Lucia is still awesome
Only three players in Division I have more goals than Lucia's nine, the most recent of which came less than two minutes into Friday's game. In one fluid motion, Lucia stole the puck in the Lowell zone after a River Hawk's pass from the boards went awry, then snapped off a terrific shot from the left wing to open the scoring. The guy is a terrific scorer and if ND has a good season the rest of the way, the junior will be a big reason why.
ND has a goaltender problem — a good one
Freshman Cal Petersen took a stranglehold on the starting job in net early on this season, but it was sophomore Chad Katunar who played both games of the Lowell series. He had 32 saves in both games, the first of which was a 3-1 loss Thursday. He was a standout in Friday's game, making multiple terrific saves and ultimately preserving the tie by stopping a River Hawks breakaway in the final seconds of overtime. The question of which netminder to place between the pipes is one coach Jeff Jackson should have a tough time answering for a couple of years, and that's a great sign for the Irish. With the offense struggling to maintain puck possession against tough competition of late, being able to lean on a strong goalie will be a big help.
Neither UML goal was really Katunar's fault. The first River Hawks' goal came late in the second period, with ND holding a 2-0 lead. Katunar made a save on a long shot from the wing, but the puck squeezed in between the sophomore's legs, and UML's John Edwardh managed to reach into the crease with his stick and poke it off the goal line and into the net. The second UML score came when Joe Gambardella deflected in a pass — unintentionally, it appeared. It was a great night overall for Katunar.
Replay giveth and replay taketh away
ND got its second goal of the game, a slapshot from Sam Herr, only after a replay review a minute of game time after the fact. Herr's shot skittered into the net, but in real time it appeared the UML defense had managed to make a great hustle play and get the puck out from behind goalie Kevin Boyle. After a stoppage a minute later, replay showed that the puck had in fact gotten over the goal line and the Irish had a 2-0 lead.
However, the dark side of replay, from an ND perspective, came up halfway through the third period. Austin Wuthrich deflected in a goal of his own to give the Irish the lead, but after a lengthy replay review, it was determined that Thomas DiPauli's right foot was in the crease on the play, thereby nullifying the goal. Coach Jeff Jackson was incensed at the call. Technically speaking, though, it was correct — even though DiPauli's violation had no effect on the play, he was in the crease. It's worth noting that an ND opponent (I believe it was Niagara) had a goal taken away earlier this season for the same violation, so if you had any pitchforks at the ready, please put them back.
The defense played well
While I'd like to see ND not be outshot so often, the Irish defensemen did a terrific job blocking shots in this game. The Irish were great on the penalty kill in this game, not allowing any sustained attack by the River Hawks. They were especially terrific in the overtime, blocking several shots and taking some heat off Katunar. I'll give them a pass on allowing a nearly game-losing breakaway because it came off a turnover in the offensive zone.
While the wins aren't coming the way ND wants, the Irish are measuring up solidly and I've got a feeling this team will go on a nice run later in the season when the plentiful young talent begins to mesh better. What were your thoughts?