On Saturday night, Notre Dame and St. Cloud State gave college hockey fans a performance that was probably one of the best games of the entire tournament so far. In a game befitting a #8 vs. #9 matchup, the two teams were neck-and-neck most of the night. However, the final goal came from Huskies captain Nic Dowd (a Hobey Baker finalist), who broke up the left-side boards with 2:39 left in the first overtime and lasered a wrister that sailed over Steven Summerhays' glove, pinged off the inside of the post, and sent the Irish packing for the second straight season.
All night long, the ice had seemed to tilt Notre Dame's way. On paper, the Irish outshot the Huskies by a ludicrous 36-12 margin in regulation and had far more scoring chances. However, for whatever reason, the on-ice product did not match up. Steven Summerhays uncharacteristically allowed three goals on those 12 shots, while his St. Cloud State counterpart, Ryan Faragher, continually bailed out his team with save after save. In addition, it was Notre Dame who was playing catch-up all night; the Huskies kept taking the lead, and then Notre Dame would come right back and tie it up.
SCSU opened the scoring at 6:54 of the first period, when Shayne Taker leveled a Huskies player as he passed the puck to Ryan Papa, who sent SCSU's first shot of the game into a wide-open net. Just a few minutes later, Andy Ryan dished the puck to Bryan Rust in the slot, who blasted it by Faragher's blocker to tie the game 1-1. Then, with 35 seconds left in the period, a Huskies player won a scramble behind the net and fired it to Brooks Bertsch, who one-timed it by Summerhays from point-blank range and gave the Huskies a 2-1 lead going into the locker room. From Jeff Jackson:
Steven (Summerhays) didn't have a chance on either of those first two goals. Those were a case of defensive breakdowns.
8:18 into the second period, Notre Dame was once again buzzing in the St. Cloud end; luckily, Mario Lucia's errant shot attempt was deflected to Kevin Lind in the slot, who shot it home for another game-tying goal (2-2). Notre Dame maintained its heavy offensive pressure for much of the period, but unfortunately they allowed SCSU's third-ranked powerplay unit onto the ice, and it cost them dearly. With only 25 seconds left in the second period, the Huskies tossed a shot at the net that embodied "a seeing-eye puck"--Summerhays was screened and never flinched as the puck snuck over his shoulder and squeaked inside the upper corner.
In the third period, the Fighting Irish defense played some of its best hockey of the year. The Huskies managed a paltry six shots in the first period and only four in the second, but they did not record a shot until 3:37 left in the third period. While the defense was taking care of business, Thomas DiPauli walked in from the right-hand boards and skimmed a shot that somehow found its way underneath a sprawling Faragher to tie the game for yet a third time.
Then came overtime. I don't know what the Huskies were told in the locker room (maybe they drank some of "Michael's Secret Stuff" from Space Jam?), but they came out and immediately began playing like a completely different team. One thing I noticed right away is that the Irish were giving up a ludicrous amount of odd-man rushes; it seemed like as soon as ND fired a shot, St. Cloud State immediately sent two guys racing up the ice looking for an outlet pass that would set up a 2-on-1 or a 3-on-2. Jeff Jackson explained what happened:
Our game changed in overtime, for whatever reason. We started playing high risk and it cost us in the end. We were trying to force things. Too many guys were trying to go one-on-the-show, turning pucks over. We gave up 12 shots in the first three periods and 16 in overtime. That's all a result of turning pucks over and taking penalties.
To add to their overtime troubles, the Irish couldn't stay out of the sin bin--which, as I noted in my preview, was what doomed them against the Huskies last year. Tynan somehow got his stick stuck in a guy's face; shortly after that penalty was killed, the Irish got called for a back-breaking too-many-men penalty. Despite this, ND still had plenty of chances to close the door on this game, including a Vincent Hinostroza breakaway that Faragher stopped cold. Unfortunately, Notre Dame's sloppy play eventually allowed one too many odd-man rushes, and Dowd's wrister sent the Huskies to the regional final vs. the Minnesota Golden Gophers.
First and foremost, stick taps to the St. Cloud State Huskies. They went up against an incredible defense and a great goalie and didn't get many chances to score, but they battled and made the most of them. They played very disciplined (only one penalty), their goalie stood on his head several times, and they made some phenomenal adjustments before overtime to finally crack the Irish defense. Excellent game from the Huskies.
As for the Irish, this loss is going to sting for quite a while. Aside from the fact that St. Cloud State bounced them two years in a row, this was a team laden with senior talent and experience that had proven itself championship-caliber throughout this season, especially after toppling #1 Boston College in the conference playoffs and making a great run to clinch a playoff spot. The Irish could've made it to the Frozen Four, and they know it.
However, as I've mentioned before, the college hockey postseason is so blessedly unpredictable that literally any team can beat anyone else, and there is certainly no shame in losing to a very solid St. Cloud State team. Considering that many folks did not give the Irish much of a chance in their first season in the nation's toughest hockey conference, this season should give the Irish a lot of long-term confidence about "belonging" in this league. Hopefully this will be a learning experience for future teams to help catapult the Irish to future postseason success.
Of course, we would be remiss if we did not acknowledge all the awesome seniors who formed the core of this team's success. These 11 seniors won 92 games over four seasons, won a CCHA title, advanced to the NCAA Tournament three times, and played in one Frozen Four; even more remarkable, they committed to ND during the abysmal 2009-10 season, when ND finished with a subpar 13-17-8 record. The 11 seniors are as follows:
- Forwards: Jeff Costello (captain), Michael Voran, T.J. Tynan, David Gerths, Bryan Rust
- Defensemen: Shayne Taker, Jared Beers, Stephen Johns, Kevin Lind
- Goaltenders: Steven Summerhays, Joe Rogers