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Irish offense rolls over Michigan

Bryan Rust claims he didn’t save his best game of the season for Michigan, it just happened to work out that way.

A giant American flag started an action-packed night at Compton Family Ice Arena Friday night.

The Novi, Mich., native scored two goals and added two more assists for No. 11 Notre Dame(17-11-1, 13-7-1-1 in CCHA) in a 7-4 win over rival Michigan(10-17-2, 7-14-2-2) Friday night. It also secured bragging rights with his father and older brother, both of whom played for the Wolverines during their college years.

“It’s huge because a lot of those guys on the team I played with growing up,” he said. “If I lose this game I have to deal with that in my ear until we play again.”

Rust was one of three Irish players with a two-goal night in what turned out to be the best offensive output of the season and the best in the two-year history of Compton Family Ice Arena. Linemate Anders Lee and fellow junior David Gerths each added a pair of goals as well.

The atmosphere in South Bend was lively from the time a neutral-zone sized American flag unfurled during the national anthem until Rust’s empty net goal with 15 seconds left on the clock. Lee kept the pregame buzz rolling on “White Out” night at Compton with a goal less than two minutes after the opening faceoff. The captain slapped a rebound past freshman goalie Jared Rutledge after an initial shot from junior Jeff Costello.

Costello, skating with Lee and Rust, collected three assists against the Wolverines. He served up two quality passes during the second period to help his team keep pace with a Michigan offense that was quickly picking up steam.

After goals from Michigan defenseman Jon Merril and freshman Boo Nieves tied the game, Costello connected with junior Bryan Rust on a spinning, backhanded feed with 13:30 left in the second period. The pass set Rust up with a wide open net and his eighth goal of the year. Ten minutes later he slipped a pass through traffic to Lee charging toward the net, and the captain finished the play on his backhand.

“Jeff’s not used to being a playmaker,” Rust said.

Lee’s second goal of the night gave Notre Dame a 4-3 lead and killed another potential momentum swing for the Wolverines. Less than a minute earlier, Andrew Copp had chopped a rebound past senior goaltender Mike Johnson for a shorthanded goal that tied the game.

Junior David Gerths was one of three Irish players to score two goals against Michigan.

“If there was one real positive tonight it was the way we came back and responded every time, which is a little bit more familiar from the first half of the regular season,” Irish coach Jeff Jackson said.

Michigan added another shorthanded score on a breakaway from winger Derek DeBlois in the third period. By that time goals from sophomore defenseman Eric Johnson (the first of his career) and Gerths (an unassisted breakaway for his second of the night) had provided the Irish with a sizable cushion.

It was a good night for the Johnson family. Older brother Mike started in net for the Irish for just the fifth time this season and picked up his third win. He finished with 18 saves, including a couple big ones in a late third period flurry from Michigan.

Prior to the Wolverines final push, Notre Dame managed to double Michigan’s shots on net (33-16 midway through the third period) against a typically high-octane offensive attack.

“It’s not defending as much as it was trying to make sure we take care of the puck,” Jackson said. “Their game is all about taking advantage of turnovers and we needed to keep them from doing that.”

Friday’s win marks the first time since December that the Irish added to their point total in the conference standings in back-to-back games. They beat Ohio State in a shootout last Saturday night. Those five points kept Notre Dame in third place and within striking distance of the CCHA’s top two teams, Western Michigan and Miami.

Michigan fell back to ninth place with the loss. The two teams will finish their final meeting as conference rivals Saturday night in South Bend in a game scheduled to being at 7:05 p.m.

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