Back to the Frozen Four.
A year after Notre Dame’s program was stalled by injuries, close losses and questions about team chemistry amid a disappointing 13-17-8 season, the Irish are back to the promised land of collegiate hockey, the Frozen Four.
Getting a superior performance from sophomore goalie Mike Johnson, Notre Dame (25-13-5) held off New Hampshire for a 2-1 victory on the Wildcats’ home ice, the Verizon Wireless Arena, to capture the NCAA Northeast Regional championship.
Johnson had 37 saves and the Irish got goals from freshman defenseman Stephen Johns and junior right wing Billy Maday, the latter, with just five seconds left in the second period to give the Irish a 2-0 lead.
“We are thrilled to death for this group to accomplish what they have this year,” Notre Dame hockey coach Jeff Jackson said in the post-game press conference on unhwildcats.com. “For this group to accomplish what they have this year with so many young kids, it’s just incredible.
“A lot of that credit goes to the leaders of the team that helped create a great bond amongst them.”
Among that group are seniors Calle Ridderwall, Ryan Guentzel and Ben Ryan, all of whom played on the only other Irish team to make a visit to the Frozen Four in 2008.
So superior was both Johnson’s play and that of the Irish defense that most of the night the crowd of 5,906 sat silent.
“They (Notre Dame’s defense) were great the whole weekend,” said New Hampshire’s Mike Sislo, who scored the Wildcats’ goal with 6:23 remaining in the game. “Their whole team made it tough getting one on net.”
“They did a great job in front of me,” agreed Johnson. “They got sticks in passing lanes, deflected pucks, blocked them as well. All the credit goes to them. They played a heck of a game.”
Johnson, who earned MVP honors, spent much of the final 1:44 watching as the Irish enjoyed a rare power play and kept the puck in the Wildcats zone, attacking New Hampshire goalie Matt DiGirolamo.
The Wildcats close at 22-11-6.
The Irish will play Minnesota-Duluth April 7 at 5 p.m. EDT at the Frozen Four at the Excel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn. Michigan and North Dakota will play in the late game.
Notre Dame scored the first goal in the first period when Johns fired one in from just inside the blue line in the slot 7:26 into the match. It was Johns’ second goal of the season.
On Notre Dame’s second goal sophomore Riley Sheahan came out of the right corner and flicked a pass to junior Maday five feet in front of the net on the right side of the slot.
Maday got a back-hander past the Wildcats goalie Di Girolamo with just five seconds remaining in the period for his 10th goal of the year.
“We weathered the storm there, “ said Maday in a televised interview on ESPN3.com between periods. “And we needed a couple of shifts to get the momentum back and had a great transition.
“It started from a great forecheck,” he added in the press conference afterwards. “We executed pretty much perfectly and I was the high guy. I saw Riley had the puck and saw I had an opportunity to go to the net. He made a great pass and I was able to put it in.”
NH (22-11-6) 0 0 1 - 1
ND (25-13-5) 1 1 0 - 2