March 4, 2004
David Downs Goliath
Notre Dame goaltender keys sweep of Michigan

By Mike Eidelbes

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During his team’s first game of the season, an exhibition contest against Western Ontario, Notre Dame goalie David Brown paced nervously between the bench and the locker room, fidgeting like a stool pigeon asked to meet Tony Soprano down by the waterfront. He was scheduled to play the second half of the match in relief of upperclassman Rory Walsh and in the moments leading up to the game’s midway point, the insects in his stomach had morphed from butterflies to wasps.

In the second game of a crucial series against conference leader Michigan Saturday, Brown was the calmest player on the ice. He wasn’t fazed by having to face four straight Wolverine power plays in the second period. It didn’t bother him that during two of those man advantages, the Irish penalty killers were caught on the ice for the full two minutes. And he didn’t have a problem stopping 39 shots in Notre Dame’s 5-2 win to complete the team’s first sweep against the Wolverines in 22 years.

“They were all over us,” Brown said. “I just wanted to stand my ground and do what I could do.”

What he does is make the first save and virtually eliminate the opportunity for a second shot by either swallowing the puck or steering rebounds away from pressure. Brown is so good at keeping second chances to a minimum that Irish defenders can tie up opposing forwards as they crash to the net so, on the rare occasions he allows a fat rebound, a teammate can move in and clear the puck to safety.

“My style of play was a little different that what the defensemen were used to,” said Brown, who likes to have clear shooting lanes so he can play the shooter one-on-one. “We’ve been compatible [with] smothering rebounds or controlling rebounds. We’re meshing well, and it comes at the right time of the year for us.”

The Stoney Creek, Ont., native burst on the scene early in the season by recording three straight shutout victories, a stretch that launched a personal eight-game unbeaten streak. Brown’s hot start, however, appeared to be somewhat of a fluke after he allowed 15 goals in three December starts, all Notre Dame losses (though Brown would earn a no-decision in one of those contests). His struggles – combined with the re-emergence of veteran Morgan Cey after missing most of the first half of the year with a knee problem – seemed to doom him to a diminished role after the holiday break.

Brown has responded by allowing two or fewer goals in his last nine starts, posting a 7-1-1 record during that span, the loss being a 1-0 decision against Northern Michigan. He enters this weekend’s series at Lake Superior State unbeaten in his last six starts and, with a 13-5-3 record, a 2.03 goals against average and a .933 save percentage, Brown is making a strong case for a number of CCHA honors, including Rookie of the Year and Best Goaltender.

Incidentally, nerves are still a big part of Brown’s game. He's making opposing shooters feel agitated.


Montoya Mended
– Michigan’s Al Montoya didn’t practice until Wednesday, but after watching his starting goalie skate prior to the team’s Tuesday workout, coach Red Berenson declared him fit to play in the upcoming series against Michigan State.

"He's fine," Berenson told the Ann Arbor News Tuesday. "He's just a little tight. Hamstrings have to be stretched. We want to warm him up…and stretch him and he should be fine."

Montoya tweaked his hammy midway through the second period of the Wolverines’ 4-1 loss at Notre Dame Friday. He stopped a shot by defenseman Wes O’Neill, but the rebound caromed to Jason Paige waiting on the other side of the goal mouth. Montoya sprawled in an unsuccessful attempt to stop Paige’s shot and had to be helped off the ice.

At the team’s pre-game skate Saturday morning, Montoya tested the hamstring and said he was ready to go. But the Michigan coaching staff felt he wasn’t well enough to play that night and gave the nod to back-up Noah Ruden, who made 11 saves in a 5-2 loss.

“It was a precaution,” Berenson said of his decision to keep the sophomore out of the lineup. “I just want to make sure to give him a chance to be 100 percent by [this] weekend.”

Three For All – Even though every team in the CCHA other than Nebraska-Omaha is still jockeying for playoff position for the upcoming conference tournament, it’s hard not to look ahead to March 21, when the field for the NCAA Tournament will be announced. That’s because at this point in time, it looks as if three squads – Michigan State, Notre Dame and Ohio State – will be battling for the last two at-large spots.

Granted, a lot can happen in the next two weeks. Assume, however, that all three teams win their respective first-round series and advance to the Super Six in Detroit. And assume that the favorites in the other conference tournaments (especially Colgate in the ECAC) capture the automatic bids that come with winning league playoff championships. The scenario is a definite possibility. Here’s what each member of the trio has in its favor – and working against it – as the regular season draws to a close this weekend.

Michigan State: The Spartans, who play two games with Michigan this weekend, will probably finish no lower than third in the CCHA, ahead of both Ohio State and Notre Dame, and there’s a remote possibility they could win the conference regular-season title. They own the head-to-head advantage over the Irish, taking three points from them in East Lansing in November; MSU split the season series with Ohio State.

There are three glaring negatives on MSU’s ledger, however. One is a schedule strength that is rated 22nd in the NCAA. Second are home losses to Findlay and Wayne State, both of which cause irreparable damage to the team’s ratings percentage index. Finally, the Spartans’ dearth of quality wins against non-conference opponents (one against Minnesota Duluth on the season’s first weekend) won’t erase the sting of the bad losses to CHA opponents.

Notre Dame: With last weekend’s sweep of visiting Michigan, the Fighting Irish improved their NCAA Tournament chances from iffy to possible. A huge factor helping Notre Dame are restaurant-quality wins – on the road, no less – against Boston College and Wisconsin. They also beat Maine at the Everblades Classic in December. Those are three victories against teams currently in the top seven of the RPI rankings. And while it’s no guarantee of future success, the Irish have the makeup of a playoff team with a hot goaltender, a veteran defensive corps and quality special teams play.

What hurts Notre Dame is that their 17 wins are fewer than all but one team (Massachusetts) in the latest PairWise Rankings. Their schedule strength, currently 19th in the nation, will take a hit this weekend when the Irish close the season at Lake Superior State.

Ohio State: The Buckeyes, like Michigan State, can strengthen their case for a postseason bid with a strong showing against Miami this weekend. OSU only has one quality win, having defeated Maine at the Everblades Classic, but they’ll benefit from playing a schedule that registers as the nation’s seventh most difficult.

The Buckeyes’ biggest downfall may be their uneven play over the last third of the season. They’re 8-6-0 in their last 14 games, although four of those defeats came against Michigan and Michigan State, and now they face a RedHawks team that swept them back in December. At 20-14-0, Ohio State has more losses than all but one team currently residing in the RPI top 20. That team? Michigan State.

Should Michigan State, Ohio State and Notre Dame finish the season in their current positions – third, fourth and fifth, respectively – and advance to the Super Six, it would set up a Buckeye-Fighting Irish quarterfinal match, where the speculation would begin all over again.

Great Weekend Getaway
120x60 - Brand Red

Michigan vs. Michigan State at Joe Louis Arena, Detroit (Sat.): Depending on the outcomes of Friday’s games, the CCHA regular season championship race could be decided, but that won’t suck any of the venom out of one of college hockey’s top rivalries. Besides, with the NCAA Tournament picture the way it is right now, wouldn’t the Wolverines love to knock the Spartans off the bubble? And wouldn’t MSU love to make it harder for Michigan to earn a No. 1 seed? Yes and yes.

While you’re there: Ludacris and Chingy perform at the State Theatre Sunday night. Roll out, indeed.

Stick Salute

Even though he was a bit player for the last two years of his college career, Notre Dame senior defenseman T.J. Mathieson put up numbers that are impossible to ignore. One of six Fighting Irish seniors honored at the Joyce Center Saturday, Mathieson’s accomplishments are as follows: an aerospace engineering major with a 3.81 grade point average, a seven-time Dean’s List honoree at Notre Dame, one of five people to win the school’s Rockne Student-Athlete Award more than once, a two-time CCHA All-Academic team member and a Rhodes Scholar candidate. “He’s clearly the best astronaut of the bunch,” said coach Dave Poulin, referring to Mathieson’s career aspirations.

Bench Minor
Red Berenson was frustrated, and understandably so, following his team’s losses at Notre Dame, but for the Michigan coach to suggest that Fighting Irish goaltender David Brown didn’t have to make a tough save over the course of the weekend – which he told a group of reporters Saturday – is absurd. If that was the case (and it wasn’t) then may we infer that Berenson is damning his team for failing to challenge Brown?


• Notre Dame athletic director Kevin White, in attendance at Saturday’s game, indicated that facilities upgrades for the Fighting Irish hockey team is part of his department’s master plan.

“Hockey is very high on the priority list,” White said.

What he didn’t say, however, is whether Notre Dame would build a new hockey arena or refurbish the team’s current home, the Joyce Center. White also gave no timetable for the start of any hockey-related project.

According to White, the school plans $100 million in athletics facility upgrades. Just over $21 million is committed toward the construction of the Guglielmino Family Athletics Center, a 96,000-square-foot building that will house, among other things, football locker rooms, offices and meeting rooms. Work on that project, the first on the list, began last fall. The athletic department building plan includes improvements for each of the school’s varsity sports.

• The NCAA has yet to make a decision on a request from a handful of coaches to modify its NHL Entry Draft opt-in rule, but the proposal was “received favorably” according to Poulin, who spearheaded the effort.

The rule, enacted in 1995, requires prospects born between Sept. 16, 1985, and Sept. 15, 1986 to declare their intentions by May 1 in order to enter the pool for the upcoming National Hockey League Entry Draft. College players who opt in forfeit the remainder of their eligibility.

Poulin reiterated that the NCAA has not set a timetable for a decision on the matter. An NCAA Management Council sub-committee can change the measure on a short-term basis. Any long-term change to the policy would have to follow the organization’s standard legislative procedures.

• The Carlson Center will be jumping next weekend as Alaska-Fairbanks ensured a first-round league playoff series at home after splitting with Nebraska-Omaha last weekend. It’s the second time the Nanooks have hosted a CCHA playoff series; the first occurred two years ago when UAF ousted Ferris State and made its inaugural trip to Detroit for the CCHA Super Six.

“When we came [to Omaha] our goal was to get enough points so we can host the playoffs,” Nanooks coach Guy Gadowsky said. “It just so happens that two points was enough.”

UAF’s fans are a vociferous group and the Carlson Center is one of two CCHA facilities that house the larger Olympic-size ice sheet. The real killer for opponents, however, is the journey across four time zones.

• By beating Alaska-Fairbanks Saturday, Nebraska-Omaha snapped an 11-game winless streak that dated back to Jan. 8, when the Mavericks topped Ferris State at the Qwest Center. Not only that, but Dan Hacker’s goal a little more than five minutes into the game ended UNO’s school-record scoreless drought at 211:46. The Mavericks hadn’t scored a goal since Valentine’s Day, when freshman Scott Parse tallied 4:05 into the second period of a 4-3 loss at Ohio State.

"[Friday] was a bad feeling, leaving here and not scoring a goal," freshman forward Kaleb Betts told Lee Barfknect of the Omaha World-Herald. "We get 8,000 fans and they come here to watch us score goals and have a good time. Hearing the crowd having a good time…was fun for everyone."

• Make sure to read Cleveland Plain Dealer writer Tim Warsinskey’s recent article about former Miami standout Todd Harkins. Harkins, whose 11-year professional career included brief stints with Calgary and Hartford, appears as Soviet forward Valeri Kharlamov in “Miracle”. The feature also discusses Harkins’ eight-year-old son Niklas, who has a rare genetic disease called Mucopolysaccharidoses (MPS) and how the film’s cast and crew helped raise money and awareness for Canada’s MPS Society.

* Bowling Green has proven to be a formidable opponent this season with wins against Miami, Michigan State and Notre Dame and ties with Colgate and Cornell, the top two teams in the ECAC. How close were the Falcons to climbing even higher in the CCHA standings?

Consider this Obscure Bowling Green Note of the Week: Scott Paluch’s team has played a school-record 11 overtime games this season. The Falcons are 1-1-9 in those contests. Five of the ties came in league play, including a pair of scoreless draws against Lake Superior State. If BGSU had won three of their five ties in the CCHA, they’d be playing for seventh place in the conference against Western Michigan Thursday.

A variety of sources were utilized in the compilation of this report.

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