Notre Dame and Miami eased into a crucial conference match-up like a leisurely Sunday afternoon walk in the park. Scoring chances were hard to come by on the ice at Solider Field, but the Irish capitalized more often and came away with a 2-1 win Sunday.
Steven Summerhays made 22 saves in Notre Dame's 2-1 win Sunday afternoon.
The two teams took their time feeling out the unavoidably bumpy ice and a very bright sun. Precision passing was replaced by a dump-and-chase style not often seen at Notre Dame. The No. 12 Irish(19-12-1, 15-8-1-1 CCHA) managed to keep it simple long enough to hold off No. 3 Miami (19-8-5, 13-6-4-4 CCHA) and leave the Windy City with three big points in the CCHA standings.
“[The ice is] always going to be like that because of the environment,” head coach Jeff Jackson said “…I don’t think it had a huge impact on the game as much as it had more of an impact on the style of play."
It took nearly thirty minutes for freshman Mario Lucia to break the ice with the game’s first goal. He got his 10th of the year to give Notre Dame a lead midway through the second period. The play started with an Irish faceoff win inside the offensive zone. Junior Bryan Rust picked up the puck and dished to Lucia who was uncovered in the high slot.
Notre Dame’s second score came with 10 minutes remaining in the game from junior Jeff Costello, who followed his six points last weekend in a pair of games against Michigan with another strong performance Sunday. Irish center Anders Lee picked off a pass in the neutral zone and raced around a Miami defender to set up the initial shot. He shoveled a backhander at freshman goalie Ryan McKay and Costello collected the resulting rebound.
“Jeff is the guy that stirs the drink on that line,” Jackson said. “He’s the guy that has the grit and determination as well as the ability to make a play. Those are great qualities.”
Miami responded a minute later to stay within striking distance. Freshman center Kevin Morris batted a rebound past a splayed out Steven Summerhays in net. Summerhays, who was at the root of Notre Dame’s struggles during January, made 22 saves in one of his better games during the second half of the season.
“We did a really good job defensively of keeping the shots on the perimeter and clearing rebounds,” he said. “We’ve been looking for a streak where I could build some momentum going down the stretch. I think after Michigan and this weekend as a whole I can build off that.”
The Irish also cleaned up their penalty killing — blanking the RedHawks on four attempts — which had been another reason for their cold streak in January and February. Referees ejected junior Mike Voran and slapped him with a five-minute major penalty from hitting behind late in the first period. That’s the type of call that would typically cause Notre Dame to come unglued in the past month. On Sunday, the Irish killed off the long penalty and maintained enough momentum to get their first goal shortly after.
“There were two keys things that happened to us tonight based on how our team has played in the second half,” Jackson said. “The first one was responding to that major penalty and killing it off. The second was when they scored to make it 2-1 we settled down and we played OK. “
Notre Dame needs to bury those problems for good if they hope to finish their regular season strong and make a run through the playoffs. Sunday’s win kept the Irish safely in third place in the CCHA standings. Next weekend they play second-place Western Michigan on the road before closing the year against Bowling Green.
No single win, even one in a charged atmosphere like Soldier Field against the third-ranked team in the nation, will give Notre Dame the momentum it needs to put a poor start to the second half behind them. Beating Miami for the first time in eight tries, though, is a step in the right direction.
“I wouldn’t say we’re fully out of it yet,” Costello said. “But we’re definitely making progress to be the team that we were in the first half.”