Notre Dame earned its first-ever trip to the Frozen Four with a 3-1 victory over Michigan State on Saturday night in the championship game of the NCAA West Regional at the Colorado Springs World Arena.
The Fighting Irish became the first fourth seed to advance to the national semifinals and they avenged a 2-1 loss to the Spartans in last year's Midwest Regional Final. Notre Dame will face CCHA rival Michigan on April 10 in Denver.
The Wolverines advanced to Frozen Four with a 2-0 victory over Clarkson.
"Obviously we are thrilled," said Irish head coach Jeff Jackson, who won a pair of national championships at Lake Superior State University. "This was a step forward from last year. It's part of the process of building a great program.
"I'm extremely proud of the kids for what they handled. There was a lot of adversity in the second half of the season. They still stayed strong as a group, and it gives us the opportunity to continue our season and play in the Frozen Four for the first time in Notre Dame history."
Mark Van Guilder scored what proved to be the game winner with 5:54 remaining in the third period, taking a pass from Ben Ryan (Brighton) off his leg, regaining control in the slot and beating Spartan netminder Jeff Lerg inside the near post with wrist shot from the slot. Notre Dame's senior captain had three assists in Friday's 7-3 victory over top-seeded New Hampshire.
The Irish picked up an insurance goal 1:14 later when Teddy Ruth put a slapshot from just outside the right circle past Lerg high on the glove side. Justin White (Traverse City) and Christian Hanson cycled the puck out of the right corner, leaving Ruth alone at the point.
Michigan State (25-12-5) dominated early in the first period, launching seven shots to ND's one, but was unable to solve Irish goaltender Jordan Pearce. The Irish began to seize the momentum in the second half of the period, but there was no score after 20 minutes for the sixth consecutive game between the CCHA rivals.
Hanson put the Irish on the board 2:43 into the second period when he stuffed the rebound of his own wrap-around past Lerg. Hanson finished the weekend with three goals and an assist to earn a spot on the all-regional team.
Justin Abdelkader (pictured) banged a laser off the crossbar three minutes later, then tied the game with 10:55 to play in the period when he put a one-timer from the left circle behind Pearce for his third point of the weekend. He worked a perfect give-and-go with Tim Kennedy after the Spartan's cycled the puck out of the left corner.
Kennedy has scored a point in each of the eight NCAA Tournament games for the Spartans over the last three years and Abdelkader has points in seven of eight games.
The Irish appeared to tie the game with just over five minutes remaining in the second period when Evan Rankin (Portage) found the puck in a scramble and put it past Lerg, but the goal was wiped off because Kevin Deeth was in the crease and prevented Spartan goalie from playing the puck.
"It was another tough call," Van Guilder said. "But we have had that happen a few times to us. We were real calm on the bench just sitting there waiting for the call. Whatever the decision, we had to keep coming. You can't let something like that kill your momentum."
While eight different players scored for the Irish, the Notre Dame defense played a huge in both victories. The Irish blocked 12 shots in the victory over MSU and killed all four Spartan power plays and all nine in their two games.
Pearce allowed just one goal on 21 Michigan State shots and had 32 saves in the victory over New Hampshire, posting back-to-back victories over Hobey Baker semifinalists Lerg and Kevin Regan.
"It's such a fun experience to play in both games, being out there and getting the win," Pearce said. "Last year I learned you got to play your best games at the biggest moments. I just wanted to go out there and play my game and make save after save. And just worry about the next shot."
Photo courtesy Michigan State Athletics