Championship Game Preview

The Notre Dame hockey team (27-15-4) will battle longtime non-conference rival Boston College (24-11-4) in the 2007 NCAA title game (Sat., April 12; 5:00 p.m., live on ESPN).

Here's a look at the matchup and other notebook items on the surging Irish hockey program. Irish Eyes will have postgame coverage from Denver's Pepsi Center, as Notre Dame looks to add another chapter to it's rabidly developing hockey resume.

THE BC SERIES: Boston College owns a 14-10-2 series edge versus Notre Dame, but the Irish are 3-0-1 against the Eagles in the past four meetings (dating back to 2002-03). Recent regular-season meetings have been played on the Friday night prior to the football games between the schools. Notre Dame's past three wins over Boston College all have produced upsets of the nation's top-ranked team at the time (7-1 in '06, 3-2 in ‘04 and 1-0 in a 2003 game at BC).

NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK - Notre Dame's first trip the NCAA title game will pit the Irish versus a Boston College program that has played in eight NCAA title games, winning twice.

"A huge part (of the game) will be the mental aspect," says sophomore Kyle Lawson. "We're kind of the new kids on the block. As long as we stay focused and do what we do, we'll be fine."

JACKSON ON THE BC MATCHUP - Notre Dame third-year head coach Jeff Jackson has plenty of respect for the Eagles. "They are another tremendous offensive team coached by one of the true gentlemen in the game (Jerry York), someone I have a great respect for," says Jackson. "They come at you in flurries, have a lot of good depth offensively and are dangerous.

The most dangerous from that group would have to be Nate Gerbe, who scorched North Dakota with his hat trick in the semifinal round. Jackson says his team will use its usual approach in regard to Gerbe.

"We don't shadow people, we just play," he says. "It's a collective effort defensively and everybody buys into paying that well. We defend as a unit.

"It's not a matter of shutting down one player, it's about playing as a team against the other team's top players. We don't do anything different than on a nightly basis. (Gerbe) reminds me lot of Brian Gionta with his size, competitiveness and skill level. You're not going to eliminate him from the game, you just have to minimize the damage."

ND NATIONAL TITLES - A win Saturday over Boston College would give Notre Dame athletics its 26th all-time national championship but first in hockey, with the school's most recent NCAA titles coming in women's soccer (2004) and women's basketball (‘01). Saturday's battle with mark the eighth time that a Notre Dame team has played in an NCAA Championship final (the women's soccer team also was the NCAA champ in ‘95, plus runner-up in ‘94, ‘96, ‘99 and ‘06).

HOW THE IRISH WERE BUILT - Notre Dame's 2007-08 roster includes eight players from Michigan, five from Illinois and four from Minnesota, plus two from Pennsylvania and one each from Alaska, Alberta, Colorado, Washington, Wisconsin and Sweden. The 25-man roster features eight players in the sophomore class, plus five seniors, six juniors and six freshmen. The team includes 20 who played junior hockey in the USHL (United Soccer Hockey League), led by several Sioux City Musketeers products. Since 1998, a total of 21 Notre Dame players have been products of the U.S. National Team Development Program. That elite under-18 program was led in its formative years (late-90s) by current Irish head coach Jeff Jackson, whose 2007-08 Irish squad includes five USNTDP alums (Jordan Pearce, Kyle Lawson, Ian Cole, Brad Phillips and Teddy Ruth).

NCAA VETERAN - With Thursday's semifinal win over Michigan, Jackson extended his Frozen Four mastery, after previously winning two national championships and reaching another title game as head coach of Lake Superior State in the early 1990s. Should the Irish knock off Boston College, Jackson would become the eighth different Notre Dame coach (in any sport) ever to win a national title in his third season (or earlier) with the Irish. That group includes four former football coaches - Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian, Dan Devine and Lou Holtz - who all coached Notre Dame to national titles in their third season at the helm. Jackson also is one win away from joining three current Irish coaches - Randy Waldrum (women's soccer), Janusz Bednarski (fencing) and Muffet McGraw (women's basketball) - and 12 former coaches who have won national titles at Notre Dame.

Jackson also would have the rare distinction of having led teams from two different schools to NCAA hockey titles. His presence. knowledge and experience clearly have played a role in helping his Irish squad navigate its way up the national ladder.

"You always base things on what had happened in the past and rely on your experience. When you get to be 52, you've got a lot of things to draw on," joked Jackson. "You trey to get your team to peak at the right time. We turned he corner and are back on the rise again. The adversity has helped us. Anything now in sports is giving your team the belief and finding it.

"I try to guide them to being focused. There are so many distractions at an event like this. Some of them are self-induced: family, friends, alumni. We appreciate them being here to support us. It's the time of year when everyone jumps on the bandwagon, and you want to make sure that the bandwagon doesn't roll over you."

Jackson owns the top career winning percentage of any active coach in the Division I hockey ranks, having won better than 71 percent of his games (260-94-36) spanning six seasons at Lake Superior and three at Notre Dame. His 1992 Lakers team beat Wisconsin for the NCAA title (5-3) while his ‘93 squad lost a 5-4 final to Maine. One year later, LSSU left no doubt with a 9-1 win over Boston University in the 1994 NCAA final game.

"Confidence is a tricky thing and coaches have a difficult time in dealing with this," says Jackson. "I've tried to do things to just make the guys loosen up a little bit. They put pressure on themselves and we've had inconsistency scoring goals. The one positive is that we didn't lose sight of playing well from end to end."

SLAGGERT KEY TO SUCCESS - Former Notre Dame player and current assistant coach Andy Slaggert has been a part of the Irish hockey program for 18 total seasons, representing the second-most seasons associated with Notre Dame hockey by any one individual (behind Lefty Smith's 19 seasons, all as head coach). Slaggert's three-year playing career (1986-89) included playing for head coaches Smith and Ric Schafer and he went on to serve as an assistant for the past 15 seasons under Schafer, Dave Poulin and now Jeff Jackson - with those 18 combined seasons providing a valuable link to recent Irish hockey history.

"When I knew I had the opportunity to take this job, I knew in the back of my mind that Andy Slaggert was the guy I wanted to be with me," says Jackson. "I knew who the other guy was too and he's my associate head coach Paul Pooley. I look a chemistry of the staff as having a direct impact on the players and being on the same page and speaking the same message. Andy had those qualities of loyalty and work ethic. I though t he had done an excellent job, just watching from a distance some of the players that he brought into Notre Dame . I knew he was a bright guy as far as having an eye for talent and eye for character.

"One of the reasons we've been able to turn the corner sooner that I expected was because of the quality of the players and the quality of the character of the kids he'd brought in here before I got here. The kids had the willingness and desire to make the changes that were necessary. These kids are tremendous. We've had one of the best GPAs of any team on campus and these kids have respect the program on and off the ice extremely well.

"All of that is due to the type of kids Andy has recruited here. He knows what Notre Dame is all about and he knows what kind of kids fit into this environment. They all are high achievers and they also are task-oriented, which fits my mold pretty well."

DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH - One of the more noteworthy plays found by Slaggert in recent years is current senior right wing and team captain Mark Van Guilder. The recruited walk-on was discovered by Slaggert late in the recruiting process but has gone on to play all 162 games of his career, establishing team record for consecutive games played and total games played. His MVP performance at the recent NCAA West Regional included scoring the game-winning goal and he added his 13th score on Thursday versus Michigan, giving the Irish a 2-0 lead.

"I wouldn't be here if it weren't for coach Slaggert," states Van Guilder, matter-of-factly. "Seeing the smile on his ace (at the Regional) was just priceless. Every once in a while I go up to him and say, ‘Coach, thanks for bringing me here.‘ He's been through a lot and does a lot for this team. Having him around loosens up the guys.

Van Guilder vividly remembers his interaction with Slaggert during the recruiting process, and he was a fairly quick sell.

"When (coach Slaggert) walked up to me and I saw ND on his jacket, I was pretty excited," says Van Guilder. "My dad just told me don't screw this up son, it's a heck of an opportunity. It took me maybe 15 minutes to decide that's where I wanted to go. I was so thrilled to be a part of this university."

STRONG AND CONDITIONED - The Notre Dame players and coaches credited their strength-and-conditioning program with helping them perform at a high level in their three NCAA Tournament games this season, all of which have been played in the high elevation of Colorado.

"You hear a lot about the elevation and how it affects you, with short shifts and stuff like that," said sophomore Ryan Thang, following the NCAA semifinal win over Michigan. "A big credit goes to our strength and conditioning coach (Tony Rolinski), and coach Jackson had us skating pretty hard the last week to get us ready for a game like this. We were ready for overtime, weren't too tired and that's a big reason we've had success out here. We are in pretty good shape compared to some of these other teams."

Irish head coach Jeff Jackson formed a quick bond with Rolinski.

"One of the unsung heroes of our program is our strength coach, and it just so happens that he and I are right on the same page - we hit it off great," says Jackson. "Six a.m. workouts got us in the right direction and the culture changed because (the players) wanted it to change. They were willing to buy into anything we were selling."

PENALTY-KILL PRINCIPLES - Notre Dame's tough penalty-kill unit - which ranks second in the nation, at 89.6 percent - played a key role by holding off Michigan on four of its man-up chances during the NCAA semifinal. Michigan averaged only one shot (five total) in those power plays and failed to deliver in the closing minutes of the third period, after Notre Dame's Kevin Deeth had been sent off with a hooking penalty.

"We were trying to get power plays, but we're going up against the top penalty-killing team in the nation," said longtime Michigan head coach Red Berenson "They didn't give up much and we weren't able to capitalize for the majority of the game."

Michigan senior forward Chad Kolarik also acknowledge that the Irish penalty kill was a key factor in the game. "They have a great forechecking on the penalty kill," said Kolarik ."It's a weird setup: they put four guys at the blue line and cut one guy across to cut you off,. It makes you dump the puck in and then a guy sags deep and throws it out. We couldn't get possession. They are aggressive and it's tough when you have no time on the puck. Our power play wasn't used to that aggressive play, because most of the teams in the CCHA don't play it."

The Irish have allowed only 22 power-play goals in 46 games this season (lower than 0.5 per game) and only twice have they yielded more than one power-play goal in a game.

"Our penalty-kill success boils down to the personnel and my associate head coach Paul Pooley, who runs the penalty kill" says Jackson.

Jackson actually learned the current Irish penalty-kill system a few years back, as a member of the staff for the NHL's New York Islanders.

"I'd always coached the power play, because the penalty kill was boring to me," he says. "But when took job with the Islanders, I was given the charge to teach the PK and I had to do some homework."

Jackson studied the penalty kill being utilized at that time by teams such as the New Jersey Devils and Ottawa Senators. "I broke down films and looked at what they we reusing. It's unconventional but a lot more teams even are using it - some of them because I taught it at a college coaching clinic."

A NEW ERA - Jackson came to Notre Dame convinced that the hockey program could be built into a national power.

"College hockey is a sport where Notre Dame can have great success, for a number of reasons," he says. "First it is the rivalries - Notre Dame has strong rivalries. Second, in recruiting today, most kids playing hockey come from strong financial backgrounds. Those kids are going to good schools and good schools translate into good grades, so we can get them into school. We are above some Ivy League schools as far as admittance goes. It opens up some doors for us to recruit kids like that.

One of the first steps in climbing to elite status was refocusing the daily direction of the program.

"When coach Jackson came in, he really stressed building a culture for this program and it was not going to happen overnight," says junior center Christian Hanson. "We had to build a foundation and we've worked really hard and taken some great steps in the last three years."

GROWING THE PUZZLE PIECES - Jackson has a unique perspective on the science of college hockey recruiting, after coaching at two distinct but different programs (Lake Superior and Notre Dame).

"When I was at Lake State, it was all about recruiting big, strong, physical kids because we were recruiting 20-year-lld freshmen," says the veteran coach. "But now at Notre Dame, we are recruiting 14-year-olds, so itt's a mater of getting the most talented kids and developing them physically and getting them mentally tougher.

"That's the difference in college hockey now but is the good thing about college hockey. It allows programs like Lake State to be successful . (But for us), it's a matter of recruiting young, skilled players and then trying to make them physically stronger."

Jackson also uses his recent opponents as blueprints for success.

"We're trying to emulate teams like Boston College and Michigan," he says. "We want to play an up-tempo style. We always will be a good defensive team, as long as I'm coaching. I always believe that offense comes from defense. We're also about puck possession and to possess the puck is the best defense of all.

"(You can succeed) if you can cycle the puck and control the puck through the neutral zone, the terminology now is puck management. You try to combine that with having a good defensive game, so you can establish your offense from your transitional game."

SHUNNING THE SPOTLIGHT - As the Irish players spilled out of the bench area to celebrate Calle Ridderwall's dramatic winning goal versus Michigan, coach Jeff Jackson - possibly the "godfather" of composure and detailed focus - remained stoic, knowing that his team still has one game left to attain its ultimate goal. The veteran coach also opted to deflect the attention, keeping the celebratory focus on his players.

"It's their moment. They give me everything they have every day and I want them to be normal kids," said Jackson. "I care about them all deeply and it's their moment in the sun. I've got a great staff that helps guide them in the right direction."

HOW SWEDE IT IS - The Notre Dame hockey team's current roster is stocked with Midwest natives - including eight from Michigan and five from Illinois - but the hero in Thursday night's NCAA semifinal win over Michigan proved to be a player whose hometown is located thousands of miles away. Calle Ridderwall, an unassuming freshman left wing and the program's first player ever from Sweden, entered the Frozen Four having scored only three goals all season, but the Stockholm native fired home the first and last goals in the showdown with top-ranked Michigan, helping Notre Dame emerge with the 5-4 overtime victory.

HANDLE WITH CARE - Ridderwall is the first player from Sweden ever to join the Notre Dame hockey program, after recently playing "midget" hockey in Chicago and then starring for the USHL's Tri-City Storm in the junior hockey ranks. The Irish coaches had high hopes for their skilled newcomer, but they concede that they took the wrong approach with the Stockholm native.

"This is an example where coaching can have a negative impact on and I'll take responsibility," says Jackson. "We thought Calle was going to come in and be a really dynamic player. But we gave him too much, too soon. We had him on a top line and power play. It was more than he could handle, then we took it a way from him and confidence became a factor and he struggled to get in the lineup.

"He's a tremendous kid with good grades and speaks better English than I do. He' always has a smile on his face, works hard and competes hard. Over the last three months, he has shown signs of coming on and I'm excited about his future, because he's not a fourth-line player. He could bring a lot to the table."

Ridderwall's parents flew from Sweden to Denver for the Frozen Four. That saw their son play in an Irish uniform one time previously, during a recent weekend series at Notre Dame.

EAGLES IMPRESSED WITH IRISH - Members of the Boston College program watched much of Notre Dame's semifinal with Michigan and were impressed with the hard-fought win.

"The biggest thing that stuck out to me is when Michigan tied the game, how poised and calm they still were," said senior forward Matt Greene. "A lot of teams probably would have folded after being 3-0 and then tied 4-4. Coach Jeff Jackson kept them ready for overtime and it showed."

Jackson's counterpart, longtime BC coach Jerry York, is plenty familiar with his team's next opponent.

"They are extremely well-coached, work extremely hard and are a meat-and-potatoes team," said York. "They have some players who can move pucks and a good goalie. We are going to have to be prepare for them as much as anybody this year."

Added senior defensman Mike Brennan, "We were very impressed 9with Notre Dame), they came out with a lot of fire. I was impressed with the physical play they had and their goalkeeper kept them in it the first period. We have a formidable opponent ahead of us."

LIFELONG FRIENDS - Notre Dame defenseman Kyle Lawson and BC star forward Nate Gerbe are longtime friends and former teammates, after starring together on the Detroit Honey-Baked junior team.

"Nate‘s a great kid and probably has the biggest heart of anyone I've ever played with," says Lawson. "He's very talented and very determined. The biggest thing is to take away his time and space. That's the best way to neutralize his speed.

The diminutive but speedy Gerbe is one of the nation's most dangerous offensive players, as evidenced by his hat trick in the 6-1 semifinal over North Dakota.

"He gets his dedication from his brothers and his dad, who's a construction worker," says Lawson. "He may be 5'5", but he plays bigger than that."

Adds Gerbe: "Kyle and I are pretty close. I talked to him out here and wished him luck in his game but now we are going to be enemies against each other."

HANSON FATHER - Most followers of college hockey know by now that Notre Dame junior center Christian Hanson is the son of Dave Hanson, an icon in the hockey subculture after starring as one of the "Hanson brothers" in the movie Slapshot. The elder Hanson played 10 professional hockey seasons - including NHL stints with the Detroit Red Wings and Minnesota North Stars - and currently serves as the director of the Island Sports Center, which serves as the home of the Robert Morris hockey team in suburban Pittsburgh.

GOOD TO GO - Speaking of Hanson's, Christian was hobbled by a leg injury during the semifinal win over Michigan but expressed confidence that he would be OK to play in the title game: "I just tweaked it a little bit in the first period. Then it felt pretty good but I tweaked it again in the overtime. It's a little sore, but I feel ready to go."

COLORADO CONNECTIONS - Five former Colorado natives have earned varsity monograms with the Irish hockey program, most notably defenseman Ryan Clark (a Littleton native who logged 121 career games at ND, from 1997-2001) and winger Steve Whitmore (Aspen/Milton Academy), who totaled 19 goals and 14 assists while appearing in 80 games from 1982-86. Others have included goaltenders Al Haverkamp (Denver/Regis HS; ‘84-‘85) and Eric Berg (Evergreen/Northwood School; ‘95-‘97), and winger Rick Kennedy (Littleton HS; ‘84-'85). Current sophomore right wing Christian Minella‘s family now lives in Aurora, Colo., but Minella grew up in the Pittsburgh area.

The Notre Dame men's basketball team was in Colorado a couple weeks ago, competing at the Pepsi Center in NCAA first- and second-round action. The Pepsi Center also was the site of the 2001 NCAA women's basketball regional action that saw Notre Dame advance on the way to winning the national title.

This marks the 15th time that the Frozen Four has been held in Colorado and the fourth in Denver (first since 1976).

AWESOME ALUMS - Numerous former Notre Dame hockey players and coaches are on hand in Denver to cheer on the Irish. That group includes the likes: of Ralph Cardillo, who coached the ND hockey club prior to the elevation to varsity status, plus 2006-07 team captain T.J. Jindra and early-1980s All-America forward Kirk Bjork (the uncle of current Irish player Eric Condra). Bjork currently serves as a regional director for Notre Dame's development department.

Notre Dame made the effort former Irish head hockey coaches and key support staff to come to Denver, with former head coach Ric Schafer (also a former player) taking the offer. Former assistants Tim McNeill and Tom Carroll (now head coach at New England College) likewise are in Denver for the Frozen Four, as is former athletic trainer John Whitmer.

The Irish hockey program has made a concerted effort to reconnect with its alums in recent years. "It's about building our rep with our former players and making sure they feel part of this, because they are the foundation of the program," says Jackson, who has received an avalanche calls, e-mails and text messages from proud alums during the past few weeks.

"Anything we can do to make them feel a part oft his is only going to help us down the road. One of the ways you build a program is not just what you are doing today or what you do in the future, but make sure you recognize the people that helped get this program to where it is."

That message is not lost on members of the current Irish team.

"We're reaping the benefits of the guys who played before us," says sophomore Kyle Lawson. "There's a lot of guys who came before us that deserve the credit and put in the hard work to help us get to where we are now."

Irish Eyes will attempt to catch up with some of the Irish hockey alums at the Frozen Four and pass on some of their comments.

DYNAMIC DEFENSIVE DUO - Senior Brock Sheahan and freshman Teddy Ruth have developed into Notre Dame's top defensive pairing, combining a highly-toured youngster with a battle-tested veteran (Sheahan's 160 career games rank second in the program's history).

"They have been great all year long," says Jackson. "Brock has been one of my favorite players since I got to Notre Dame. I love a western Canadian kid that's got a little growl in him and plays with so much passion. He's a tough kid to play against and does a tremendous job night in and night out.

"When Teddy committed, I knew who he was playing with. Teddy is a ‘heart and soul' kid, tough and physical . We lacked that toughness on the blue line two years ago. He has that grittiness and yet is smart . He skates well enough to be more than a defenseman. He has a great shot and scored big goal against Michigan State (in the NCAA second round)."

"YOU'VE BEEN TRADED FOR FEDEROV" - Ruth received plenty of ribbing from teammates last month when his draft rights were traded from the Washington Capitals to the Columbus Blue Jackets. The key point in that move was the other player in the deal, as Columbus sent longtime NHL standout Sergei Federov to the Capitals straight up for the rights to Ruth.

"I thought they were kidding when people said, 'You got traded for Federov straight up.' It's like a childhood dream," says Ruth. "I can't believe I got traded for one of the greatest hockey players of all time. Obviously Columbus has confidence in me, so that's just more motivation to keep me going."

Washington selected Ruth in the second round of the 2007 NHL draft, making him the 46th overall player selected. His Notre Dame classmate and fellow defenseman Ian Cole was selected in the first round (18th overall), by the St. Louis Blues.

TAKING ON NO. 1: The semifinal game with Michigan was the fifth time this season that the Irish faced the nation's top-ranked team. It marked the 11th time - and fourth in the past five seasons - that Notre Dame has knocked off a No. 1-ranked team.

WORKING OVERTIME - Thursday's decisive goal came six minutes into overtime and initially was set up by freshman defenseman Ian Cole's shot from the top of the left circle. Goaltender Bryan Hogan was able to make the save, but the Irish controlled the ensuing faceoff and maintained possession in their attacking zone. Moments later, junior center Jason White won a battle near the right corner and slid a pass to the point for veteran defenseman Dan VeNard. The righthanded senior raised his stick high in the air and had a clear shooting lane, with the low shot kicking off the right pad of Hogan.

The rebound carried out into the slot and the lefthanded-shooting Ridderwall was in ideal position, quickly shifting the puck to his forehand and snapping a shot that sailed over Hogan's left leg and inside the left post. All of the team's fourth-line forwards - Ridderwall, White and Ryan Guentzel - were on the ice for the final goal and joined in the ultimate celebration with Ridderwell, who sped away from the goal and flashed a low fist-pump before flopping to the ice as VeNard tackled him.

While Michigan coach Red Berenson conceded that his team "did not play well in overtime, we were on our heels," the Irish came out focused on claiming the historic victory.

"We just said that we have one overtime to play for a (spot in the) national championship game," said Irish team captain Mark Van Guilder. "We put the second and third period behind us and moved on. We knew if we got some momentum right away and some good cycle shifts, we would be fine."

WOLVERINES RALLY … AGAIN - Michigan quickly scratched its way back midway through the second period, as Chad Kolarik and Matt Rust scored in a span of 15 seconds. Kolarik cashed in a pass from his linemate Porter with a wrister from the slot (over Pearce's left shoulder) while Rust poked home Aaron Palushaj's pass from the left corner.

The Irish still maintained a 3-2 lead entering the final 20 minutes of regulation and now are 24-1-0 when taking a lead into the second intermission.

Michigan had defeated Notre Dame in two regular-season meetings during mid-January (3-2 and 5-1), with the first game seeing the Wolverines rally from a 2-0 deficit.

"(The earlier game) was definitely on our minds," said Kolarik. "(Assistant coach) Mel Pearson kept saying to us ‘Just like in Ann Arbor' and we came back, but we did not get the job done this time."

Notre Dame head coach Jeff Jackson expected a tough game, despite his team's quick 3-0 lead.

"It was a crazy game and at no time did I feel comfortable," said Jackson. "They are just too explosive and I knew it was going to be a tight game. Our guys responded and it didn't phase them. You always wait for momentum to change and our guys handled it with calm and cool. We're awful proud for that."

SAUER CHASED EARLY - First-period goals from Calle Ridderwall, Mark Van Guilder and Ryan Thang chased Michigan junior goaltender Billy Sauer from Thursday's semifinal. Sauer - a draft pick of the Colorado Avalanche (the Pepsi Center's regular occupant) - entered the night with a 1.89 season goals-against average and lofty .927 save percentage, but he managed to stop only six of the nine shots he faced before being replaced during the first intermission.

"He's been our bread and butter goalie all year, but I just didn't like the way that the game was going," said longtime Michigan head coach Red Berenson. "It looked like he was fighting the puck. We just watched the number one goalie in the country (North Dakota's Jean-Philippe Lamoureux) give up six goals. That proves that it doesn't matter what you've done - it's what you do at this stage of the season. We had to change the momentum. It was a tough decision, but you're trying to win the game anyway that you can."

"We didn't get the start that we wanted, but I liked the way our team regrouped in the second and third period. It's anybody's game once you go into overtime. If someone would have told me that it would take five goals to win this game, I would have told them they were crazy. It's not often that Notre Dame gives up four goals."

OVERCOMING FRUSTRATIONS - Notre Dame had to overcome two frustrating moments that led to Michigan's tying goals. The first came early in the third period, when a costly too-many-men-on-the-ice penalty led to Chad Kolarik's power-play goal. Then, with 5:21 left in regulation, Carl Hagelin scored a fluke goal on a tough-angle shot that kicked off goaltender Jordan Pearce's glove and tucked inside the near post.

Jackson blamed a lapse in fundamentals for the penalty that led to Kolarik's tying goal.

"I was upset with the dump in on the line change," said the Irish coach. "That's a simple little thing that we talk about all the time. It rimmed around and those boards are fast, and that's what caused the (too-many-men) penalty."

A Kevin Deeth goal allowed the Irish to retake the lead with 8:30 left in regulation. Three minutes later, Michigan's Matt Rust picked up an unconventional assist, after dumping the puck into the right corner. Hagelin - like Ridderwall, a native of Sweden - raced to meet the rebound and one-timed a backhanded shot, a stick-length away from the goal but squarely on the endline. Pearce was hugging the post and reached to bat the puck with his glove, but it bounced straight down and carried into the net for a 4-4 game.

"(That goal) was a rallying point for our team, because Jordan Pearce has been a difference maker the last two months," said Jackson. "That was the first thing coming out of our team's mouth - let's rally for Pearcy.

"That's the nature of our team right now. We've had so many things happen to us, so our kids have been through a lot. There wasn't a sense of panic. If Jordan gives up one bad goal in a month, that's not too bad."

QUICK STARTERS - Notre Dame's first-period blitz versus Michigan included two goals in the sixth minute, separated by only 42 seconds, and Ryan Thang's thrilling shorthanded score just moments before the intermission.

Jason White set up the first goal by firing a pass up the left boards. Calle Ridderwall took the puck at the blue line and angled to his right as he crossed the mid-ice Frozen Four logo. The nifty stickhandling continued, as Irish right wing Evan Rankin crossed in front of his onrushing teammate. Ridderwall then faked out Tristin Llwellyn and slid to his left into the slot, with four Michigan players converging on the play. Michigan's Steve Kampfer provided a partial screen as Ridderwell froze the Wolverines with a fake to his right, instead opting for a forehanded shot that narrowly carried over Sauer's stick and into the upper left corner of the net.

Less than a minute later, senior defenseman Brock Sheahan won the puck in the corner (to the right of goaltender Jordan Pearce) and fired a cross-ice pass through the center logo. Thang carried the play down the left side and dropped the puck to the senior right wing Mark Van Guilder, who continued into the left circle and set up for his forehand shot. The puck somehow found its way over Sauer's left pad and under his arm, settling into the far-right side of the net for Van Guilder's 13th goal of the season and a stunning 2-0 lead.

Michigan looked to get back in the game with its first power-play chance of the night, but the sophomore left wing Thang had other ideas and scored shorthanded for his team-leading 18th goal of the season. With the power play ticking away, Pearce made a stick save on a routine shot and the puck carried out to his left. Thang took possession, raced down the left boards and scooted around Kampfer, utilizing a fake to the slot before pulling back and shifting to the left. Thang then skated free into the center of the left circle and lifted a nifty backhander over Sauer's blocker for the 3-0 cushion (19:25).

DEETH BACK ON TRACK - Notre Dame first-line center Kevin Deeth appears to have emerged from his sophomore slump that included a recent 11-game goal drought. Deeth ended that no-goal streak with a score in the NCAA opener versus New Hampshire and then scored a key goal midway through the third period of the NCAA semifinal with Michigan.

That goal gave Notre Dame a brief 4-3 lead. Ian Cole's pass out of the defense found the stick of Dan Kissel, who continued down the center of the ice. Despite having two Michigan players in front of him and two others in close pursuit, Kissel was able to maintain possession before feathering a pass into the right circle. His classmate Deeth was angling into the play and deftly switched the puck to her left before scooping a point-blank backhander into the left side of the net.

Pete LaFleur – currently the public relations director at Geneva Glen Camp, in Indian Hills, Colo. (near Denver) – served the past 11 years as an assistant sports information director at Notre Dame, including several seasons as the hockey program's SID. He will be writing periodically for Irish Eyes magazine and website, with some upcoming IE magazine feature stories on the Notre Dame hockey program. Top Stories