Postcard: Hidden Treasure

With all that was taking place on the University of Notre Dame campus Friday, it was easy to overlook the hockey game between the Fighting Irish and Boston College. The match, which has become an annual prelude to the football tilt featuring the only Catholic universities playing at the Division I level, was part of a day at Notre Dame that included a women’s volleyball contest, a men’s soccer game, a women’s swimming meet, the traditional football pep rally and a men’s basketball exhibition.

But the 2,763 fans who found the Joyce Center ice arena -- a venue that resembles a shrunken Astrodome -- were treated to a dandy.

The Eagles boasted the credentials. Two years removed from a national championship. Ranked in the top three in every national poll. Off to their best start since 1983-84. The Irish were coming off a pair of resounding defeats against Ferris State.

Didn‘t matter. The two teams battled to a 3-3 tie in a game that featured everything. And that’s not hyperbole.

Boston College looked like the Russian Red Army for the game’s first 10 minutes. The Eagles outshot Notre Dame 10-1, making the Irish offensive zone as lonely a place as Anna Kournikova’s trophy case. BC moved the puck like the Harlem Globetrotters during their “Sweet Georgia Brown” routine.

Notre Dame’s saving grace -- no pun intended -- was sophomore goaltender Morgan Cey, who would be as heralded as Ryan Miller if he played in Minneapolis, Ann Arbor or Durham. Among his highlight-reel stops in the first period were a cartwheeling save on a BC attacker who streaked down the near wing and drove past a couple Irish players in the slot, and a nifty effort on an odd-man rush led by the Eagles’ Tony Voce and Ben Eaves.

The Irish weathered the storm and scored the game’s first two goals. The first was an Alex Lalonde blast from the slot late in the first, the latter a second period tip-in by Yan Stasny after teammate Tom Galvin’s shot slipped through goalie Matti Kaltiainen’s legs and hit the post.

An upset seemed imminent. The Irish had the Eagles on their collective heels. And Notre Dame is renowned for shocking victories, right? The football team’s conquests are well documented. UCLA’s 88-game win streak ended on the Joyce Center basketball court in ’74. The school’s baseball team advanced to the 2002 College World Series by beating Florida State, winners of 25 in a row, in Tallahassee. So why couldn’t fans expect Dave Poulin’s team, a talented bunch in their own right, to hand Boston College its first setback of the year?

Whatever momentum Notre Dame created -- and 20 minutes of BC lethargy -- disappeared with the Eagles’ first goal, sparked by a heady, 135-foot, tape-to-tape pass from Kaltiainen to Dave Spina, who was waiting at the far blue line. Cey stopped the initial shot, but Chris Collins buried the rebound to halve the Irish lead midway through the second.

Boston College ratcheted up its efforts following the goal; Notre Dame kept pace. Lalonde hit the post on a shot from the near side. Moments later, a Collins drive caroms off Cey’s helmet.

The third period was even more intense. Brett Peterson ties the score with a bleeder that gets through Cey’s legs 2:50 into the frame. A possible Notre Dame goal with about eight minutes left -- it was definitely in or obviously failed to cross the goal line, depending on one’s vantage point -- is acknowledged by neither the goal judge nor the referee. Play continues.

Cey stops a breakaway with five minutes left in regulation. Notre Dame’s Rob Globke undresses a BC defenseman, but his shot hits the post. Finally, Ryan Murphy gives the Eagles their first lead with 3:31 left in the third, shoveling a rebound past Cey.

A mood swing became apparent following that goal, a sense from the Notre Dame faithful that suddenly, at this football-mad institution, this hockey game was important. Maybe it was a feeling they picked up from the players. This means more to us than it does to them.

Thoughts of the Bowl Championship Series, Tyrone Willingham and Arnaz Battle disappeared from the forefront. For a moment, the normally stoic Joyce Center crowd became as passionate as any in college hockey. The band played louder, the fans clapped harder, yelled with more emotion.

Notre Dame couldn’t convert on a short power-play opportunity. The advantage expired with a little more than two minutes left. Cey skated to the bench with 1:10 remaining. The Irish applied more pressure. With 42 seconds left, Aaron Gill got a pass from Globke, spun, and wristed the puck over Kaltianen’s shoulder. Tied.

Both teams would have opportunities in overtime. Cey robbed Andrew Alberts with a fantastic glove save. Kaltiainen returned the favor on Notre Dame’s Neil Komadoski.

The final buzzer sounded. Boston College is relieved to keep its unbeaten streak intact. Notre Dame is a disappointed to squander a lead at home. The fans leave smiling, having just taken in a dramatic, well-played, fast-paced contest.

Perhaps the most important outcome is that, for at least 3:31, Notre Dame was, above all else, a hockey school.

– Mike Eidelbes

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