Last year's young Notre Dame team - and the struggle it went through all season long - is paying dividends now, as the Irish are as hot as any team in the country after blowing past Maine twice over the weekend, leapfrogging BC and taking over 1st place in the Hockey East standings.
ND 4 Maine 1 - Friday
The first two periods of the weekend set were evenly matched, despite the fact that ND entered the series with one loss in its last 15 games while Maine had only two wins in its last 10. The Irish jumped on the scoreboard first on Friday night with a quick goal just over four minutes into the game. It was a bit of a lucky goal, as Thomas DiPauli whipped a turnaround shot at the goal that deflected off Maine defenseman Rob Michel and past netminder Matt Morris. That score marked the 23rd time in 29 games that ND had scored first, according to the NBCSN broadcast. That leads the nation.
DiPauli nearly scored again just a few minutes later on a breakaway, but was denied. That led to the Black Bears' only goal of the night, when Andrew Tegeler got loose towards the net and made the expert maneuver of...whiffing on his shot. ND goalie Cal Petersen, expecting some sort of shot, slid over and the puck went five-hole on him to tie the score.
That was the last offense for a while, although ND certainly had the better of the chances both the rest of the first period and the entirety of the second. In the third period, though, the Irish took over the game and would control the rest of the weekend.
Attacking consistently on offense, the Irish were finally rewarded when Jack Jenkins scored a goal right after Maine was called for a penalty. Since play wasn't stopped on the delayed penalty call, ND got the power play on top of the goal (a nifty college rule that broadcaster Pierre McGuire said he'd like to see applied to the pros as well). The Irish took quick advantage on the 'bonus' power play, as Mario Lucia pounded in a rebound goal after a shot by Anders Bjork glanced off the post and slid right over to Lucia.
Perhaps shell-shocked, Maine didn't manage much of anything the rest of the game, and DiPauli polished things off with an easy empty-netter in the final minutes. ND's winning ways had continued, 4-1.
ND 5 Maine 1 - Saturday
The Irish left no doubt Saturday, controlling action from the jump and picking up yet another victory to move to a remarkable 14-2-2 in Hockey East games.
Jake Evans had ND's first goal, on a breakaway with 6:05 to go in the first period. The play was sparked by some terrific ND defensive play on the back end, and Evans capped it off by slithering between a pair of Maine defensemen. It was ND's only goal of the first period, but they controlled play throughout the 20 minutes.
The second period was marked by ND dominance, and Sam Herr got things started immediately with a goal 31 seconds into play. He was one of a pair of Irish rushing the net on a loose puck, but he was the one that managed to come up with the puck and put it into the net.
Maybe the biggest drama of the evening came a little later in the period, when Maine's Cedric Lacroix was whistled for interference on ND's Cal Petersen, and the sophomore netminder took exception to Lacroix's actions, getting up and getting into the Black Bear's face. So animated was Petersen I originally thought the penalty was on him.
The penalty was one of several committed by Maine in the second, and ND seemed to be on the power play the entire period. While on a 5-on-3, the Irish went up 3-0 when Connor Hurley put in a rebound goal. The only remaining question was that of Petersen's shutout. Somehow, the sophomore still hasn't recorded one despite his terrific season to this point - he's second only to UMass-Lowell's Kevin Boyle in Hockey East games with a 1.66 goals-against average. He didn't get one on this night, as Maine messed that up with 2:49 to play and the game well in hand for the Irish.
Before that, it was Anders Bjork with a spectacular goal on an outstanding series of moves three minutes into the final period. (While last year was the Mario Lucia show offensively, Bjork has emerged as ND's most multifaceted offensive threat, and DiPauli is probably second.) Dylan Malmquist had ND's final goal just over a minute later, and it was cruise control from there.
ND's got its eye on a first-time Hockey East championship, but it won't be easy. The Irish must take on third-place Providence on the road this weekend, and they finish with a home set against fifth-place Boston University. However, no one wants to see the red-hot Irish right now, and between an explosive offense and Petersen's quiet brilliance, few teams appear in better shape at the moment than the guys in blue and gold.