Bryan Rust looked to be well on his way to playing the hero for a second straight night at Compton Family Ice Arena.
Irish junior Steven Summerhays stopped 29 shots in a 4-3 win over Bowling Green Saturday.
The junior right wing followed Friday’s overtime game-winning goal with two scores Saturday night, including a penalty shot in the third period that broke a 2-2 tie. Notre Dame held on to win, 4-3, and complete a two-game sweep in the conference quarterfinals. But a playoff script is seldom as clean as the one that almost played out for Rust. Both sides added a goal in the final ten minutes, appending his heroics with a short burst of an epilogue to end the final game of the year in South Bend.
The win sends Notre Dame to Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena for the CCHA’s swansong conclusion next weekend. The Irish and seventh-seeded Michigan claimed two of the four semifinal spots Saturday night. Their respective opponents will be determined Sunday night.
“It’s huge for Notre Dame,” Rust said. “To be able to represent our conference at the Joe is huge for us, and it’s bigger for me because I’m for southeast Michigan. It’s a real fun thing to go down to the Joe knowing that you’ll be playing for a ring.”
The Novi, Mich., native knew what he would do as soon as Irish coach Jeff Jackson gave him the nod for his third period penalty shot. Already playing a man short, a Bowling Green defender covered a loose puck in his own crease. Notre Dame had the option to send him to the box for a 5-on-3 power play or give any player on the ice a free shot at Falcons goalie Andrew Hammond. Jackson chose to ride his hot hand.
“I watch him every Thursday after practice [working on breakaways] and in other shootouts,” Jackson said. “We had the option for the 5-on-3 and I figured, well, Rusty is pretty good.”
Rust used the same move he’s used since he was a kid — deke to the backhand and lift it to the top shelf in the near corner. It worked again.
Four minutes later Notre Dame found itself on the power play again, and this time junior Anders Lee got a clean tip on the puck to knock it in for what would eventually be the game-winner. Sophomore defenseman Robbie Russo fired a slap shot from the point, which was redirected to Lee’s stick. The captain had an open net to give the Irish a bit of breathing room.
They needed it, too. Thirteen seconds later Irish goalie Steven Summerhays got turned around trying to play a puck behind the net. It slipped out to the slot where Bowling Green junior Bryce Williamson was waiting to put in an easy goal.
Williamson scored twice — and had a couple of chances for a hat trick in the final minutes — for a Falcons team that refused to ends its season quietly. Twice he created his own space in front of the net for clean shots as the clock ticked down, but Summerhays was able to stop them both.
“He’s just great in front of the net. He’s got such a quick release on his shot and it’s very deceptive, too,” said Summerhays, who finished with 29 saves.
Williamson’s first goal came early in the second period on the power play. Two Irish defenders broke or lost their sticks on the penalty kill, giving Williamson a clear shooting lane from the high slot. He ripped a low wrist shot past Summerhays’ glove.
That goal helped close the 2-0 gap Notre Dame had opened in the first period. Rust scored first for the Irish. He bounced a shot off a Bowling Green defender for a power play goal less than seven minutes into the game.
A needle-threading breakout pass between seniors Sam Calabrese and Nick Larson set up the second goal of the period. From behind his net, Calabrese fed Larson near the far blue line behind the Bowling Green defense for a breakaway attempt. Hammond (30 saves) stopped the first shot, but Larson picked up his own rebound in the crease and poked it in.
"I thought we came out really well," Jackson said. "We put pressure on them. I thought we were moving the puck out of our zone well. They’re a tough team to play against. I thought we did a nice job against them in the early stages of the game."
The Falcons, riding a wave of momentum that started with a pair of Notre Dame penalties, tied the game late in the second period with another power play goal. Ben Murphy redirected a shot from defenseman Ralfs Freibergs for the score.
Despite his one snafu that led to a late goal in the third period, Summerhays played as well as he has in months during the weekend sweep of Bowling Green.
“I’ve been trying to work on my game each week and trying to get back to where I was in the first half,” he said. “I think I’m there. Today I was seeing the puck really well.”
He’ll head to Detroit with a full head of steam next Saturday.