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Irish clinch CCHA third with tie

Notre Dame and Western Michigan battled toe-to-toe Saturday at Lawson Ice Arena, and for the second night in a row, neither group budged. The two teams played to a 1-1 tie before the Irish stole an extra point in the standings with a 2-0 shootout win.

Irish goalie Steven Summerhays made 25 saves to help Notre Dame to a 1-1 tie Saturday night.

No. 11 Notre Dame(19-12-3, 15-8-3-2 in CCHA) lost its shootout bid the night before and left Kalamazoo, Mich., with three total points, an unconventional weekend split. In the process, the Irish padded their conference position enough to guarantee they would finish no lower than third place in the regular season and would host a home playoff series in mid-March.

The seventh-ranked Broncos(18-8-8, 14-6-6-3 in CCHA) remained one point ahead of Notre Dame in second place of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association.

“This was tremendous hockey to watch,” Western Michigan head coach Andy Murray said. “Guys were battling, it was physical. They’re the biggest team we’ll play and we matched them hit-for-hit. It’s fun to be behind the bench and watch players like this play that hard.”

Both teams cranked up the physicality Saturday night after a faster game on Friday. All scoring was finished in the first period and followed by 40 minutes of body blows unsuccessfully searching for a crack in the armor.

Irish junior Bryan Rust scored the team’s lone goal in regulation 11 minutes after the opening faceoff. He slipped behind the Western Michigan defense where defeneseman Eric Johnson found him with a pass. Rust had enough time alone in front of the net to fire two shots, the second of which got past Broncos goalie Frank Slubowski.

Notre Dame controlled the early part of the game against a sluggish Western Michigan team trying to settle in on its Senior Night. The Irish took 14 of the game’s first 17 shots on goal before penalties gave the Broncos a chance to clot the bleeding. Notre Dame spent the last six minutes of the period shorthanded thanks to a trio of consecutive penalties.

“That took the momentum away. It gave them some energy,” head coach Jeff Jackson said. “Up until that point I felt like we had all the energy and that put us on our heels a little bit and they went the other way.”

Western Michigan junior Mike Cichy took advantage of the first power play to tie the score 1-1 with four minutes left in period. Cichy sniped the top left corner of the Irish goal from just outside the offensive zone faceoff circle. Notre Dame took eight more penalties throughout the game, but the Broncos were unable to convert again.

Their best chance to take the lead came shorthanded in the second period. Sophomore center Will Kessel poked a loose puck past Irish goalie Steven Summerhays moments after a referee blew the play dead to call another Notre Dame penalty.

Summerhays, who finished with 25 saves, robbed another golden opportunity for the Broncos in overtime. Senior captain Dane Walters fired a one-timer late in the extra period that looked destined to be a game winner, but Summerhays yanked it from the air with his glove to keep his team alive.

“I saw it the whole way but it just depends how you come out with your glove and my glove was in that general area so I didn’t have to move it much,” he said. “The guy pretty much just put it in the palm of my hand.”

The Irish junior seems to have regained his confidence and his lock on the starting spot after losing his mojo during a poor stretch of play in January. He stopped both of Western Michigan’s attempts in the shootout to lead to a swift Irish win.

Rust started the shootout with a goal for Notre Dame. He put the puck in the net four times during the weekend, two in regulation and two in shootouts. Irish captain Anders Lee finished with a nice deke that set him up to beat Slubowski through the five hole and make the score 2-0.

“It’s fun. Tying is tying, so when you can add a little more excitement for the players that’s nice. …When you win the shootout it’s definitely a little more fun,” Lee said.

Notre Dame returns to South Bend next weekend to finish the year with a pair of games against Bowling Green. The Irish aren’t technically eliminated from a regular season title yet, but they’ll need two losses from first-place Miami and one from Western Michigan to have a chance.

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