March 17, 2007
CCHA Finals
Irish Cling to History
It wasn't easy, but Notre Dame captured its first CCHA title

By Ricardo Cooney

Notre Dame 2,
Michigan 1
Team Goal Str
Time Assists
First Period
1-UM Kevin Porter (23) EV
19:54 J. Johnson, T.J. Hensick

Second Period

1-ND Erik Condra (14) EV
15:58 K. Deeth, R. Thang
Third Period
2-ND Jason Paige (11) EV
8:52 G. Regan, B. Blatchford
UM: Billy Sauer, 58:26, 35 saves, 2 GA
ND: David Brown, 60:00, 31 saves, 1 GA
Penalties: UM 7/14; ND 6/12
Power Plays: UM 0-5; ND 0-6
Attendance: 16,481
All-Tournament Team
G: David Brown, Notre Dame (MVP)
D: Jack Johnson, Michigan
D: Wes O'Neill, Notre Dame
F: Erik Condra, Notre Dame
F: T.J. Hensick, Michigan
F: Kevin Porter, Michigan

DETROIT – In what was one of the more exciting days of college hockey played at Joe Louis Arena, one team made history on Saturday, while the other may have saved its season.

In the CCHA championship final, Notre Dame (31-6-3) held on to beat Michigan (26-13-1), 2-1, while Michigan State (22-13-3) bounced back from a semifinal loss to Michigan to outgun Lake Superior State (21-19-3), 7-6 in overtime, in the consolation game.

Notre Dame's victory came after Jason Paige's goal with 8:52 left broke a 1-1 tie and after a Wolverine shot rang off the post a couple of minutes earlier denying Michigan the lead.

The victory and the way it came about was just another example of how the Irish have thrived in close games this season, a trait that was not lost on Wolverines' coach Red Berenson.

"That's been the tale of their season,'' he said. "Now whether or not it's helpful or hurtful, I don't know. All I can tell you is that we expected it would be a low scoring affair.

"We knew that our chances would be fewer and that we would have to capitalize. We knew that the first goal might be the winning goal and it could have been but it didn't work out that way.''

Despite trailing late though, Michigan still had a chance to tie the contest and force overtime.

With Michigan pressing for the tying tally, the Irish's Tom Sawatske took a cross-checking penalty at 18:07 of the third. Michigan gained possession of the puck and after a whistle stopped play and a timeout, U-M set its plan in motion.

After winning the faceoff out of the timeout and getting the puck into Notre Dame's zone, the Wolverines swarmed the net with three or four solid chances at evening the score but the Irish stood tall, blocking shots, taking the body and keeping the puck along the boards as much as possible.

With less than 25 seconds left Irish goalie David Brown, who made 31 saves on the night, made one more off a scramble in the crease. A teammate popped out of the mass of bodies with the puck, sending it down the ice with five seconds left. One more harmless shot went wide to the right as time expired, setting off a wild celebration for a program that finished just 5-27-6 two seasons ago.

"I felt really calm behind the bench, really comfortable, which told me I thought our team was ready to play well and that's always a good indication, Jackson said. "If I feel nervous that's not. I felt good and the longer we could stay in the game, I thought the better it would work for us.''

Eventually it did but not before a few scares threatened Jackson and Notre Dame's dream.

Halfway through the third period, Jack Johnson beat his man up the ice and cut to the middle between the circles, taking a pass from behind the Irish net and ringing one off the post. It was the second time a great setup left the Wolverines empty.

David Rohlfs had clanked one of the post earlier in the game when he blasted a shot that beat Brown but deflected to the left of the intended target.

"We had tons of opportunities there in the first, I had a couple and I think Rohlfs hit the post. Jack (Johnson) hits the post there in the third period. If that goes in I think it's a totally different game,'' U-M's Hobey Baker candidate T.J. Hensick said. "That gives us a 2-1 lead with 10 minutes left. We had chances, we just didn't bury them.''


Michigan State 7,
Lake Superior State 6

Team Goal Str
Time Assists
First Period
1-MS Bryan Lerg (23) EV
7:30 C. Lawrence, D. Sturges
2-MS Daniel Vukovic (5) EV
11:23 C. Lawrence, Z. McClellan
3-MS Jim McKenzie (11) PP
12:44 T. Kennedy, J. Abdelkader
1-LS Steven Oleksy (1) EV
14:32 T. Schwab, J. Sim

Second Period

2-LS Nathan Perkovich (13) EV
8:41 J. Rainville, S. Oleksy
4-MS Daniel Vukovic (6) EV
9:22 T. Howells, N. Sucharski
3-LS Nathan Perkovich (14) PP
13:16 D. Smith, S. Gysbers
Third Period
5-MS Chris Mueller (13) EV
5:25 E. Graham, B. Gentile
4-LS Steven Oleksy (2) EV
7:56 D. Osman, J. Rainville
6-MS Matt Schepke (3) EV
14:20 C. Mueller, T. Howells
5-LS Nathan Perkovich (15) PP
18:54 T. Schwab, D. Smith
6-LS Trent Campbell (12) EA
19:40 T. Schwab, D. Smith
7-MS Tyler Howells (4) PP
3:37 D. Vukovic, T. Kennedy
LS: Jeff Jakaitis, 62:13, 29 saves, 7 GA
MS: Jeff Lerg, 63:28, 40 saves, 6 GA
Penalties: LS 5/10; MS 5/13
Power Plays: LS 2-4; MS 2-4

In the CCHA's third-place game with two of the better goalies in the league patrolling the nets, goals came as easy as those scored in a video game. Michigan State and Lake Superior State combined for 13 goals in an overtime thriller that was decided on a power play goal by Spartan defenseman Tyler Howells.

After Lake State freshman defenseman Ryan Baird was called for tripping at 3:25 of overtime, Howells picked up a rebound about 20 feet in front of Jakaitis off a Daniel Vukovic shot and wristed home the game winner.

It ended one of the wildest and definitely one of the strangest games in CCHA Tournament history. MSU goalie Jeff Lerg entered the game with a solid 2.44 goals-against average, while Jakaitis stepped on the ice with a 2.17 GAA.

"No one thought that these two goaltenders would be giving up 13 goals but we will take it and look forward to next weekend,'' MSU coach Rick Comley said.

Despite the sometimes ridiculous offensive chances that occurred because of poor defensive coverage and unnecessary penalties that led to power plays, MSU coach Rick Comley refused to beat his team up, convinced that the win put his team in the postseason.

"We have scratched and clawed all year. Winning has not been easy for us (so) I'm just going to tell them to enjoy it, relax and play,'' Comley said. "I think that teams are nervous to see if they will get to the tournament, but once you are there, you calm down. We will be excited for next weekend.

The game never would have gotten to overtime if it wasn't for the good fortune the Lakers received late in the game with MSU up 6-4 with a little under three minutes left to play.

MSU's Brandon Gentile took a cross-checking penalty at 18:20 and Lake State's fabulous freshman Nathan Perkovich scored his third goal of the game at 18:54 after the Lakers pulled Jakaitis to gain a 6-on-4 advantage.

From there, Lake State pulled Jakaitis again and Trent Campbell banged home a rebound off a scramble to the left side of MSU goalie Jeff Lerg with just 20 seconds left to force overtime.


• "They play that bunny-rabbit hockey."

That's what Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson called Michigan's style of play in the postgame press conference after his team's 2-1 win over the Wolverines to capture the CCHA Tournament title. By no means did Jackson mean the remark as a slight, so he explained himself afterwards to clarify what he meant.

"That's just something I say to our team all the time." he said. "We can't play bunny-rabbit hockey, not yet anyways, but I do want to play more of that style.

"Michigan's got a talented hockey team. There's speed, great plays, they find open people, they're smart. We've got some guys like that but speed makes the difference. It's not that they don't play great defense – they do everything well – but they have that additional element of speed.''

INCH's Three Stars
of the Weekend

3. Nathan Perkovich, Lake Superior State
Keep an eye on this kid next season. As a member of the Lakers’ No. 2 line as a freshman, Perkovich’s hat trick Saturday give his undermanned team more than a chance to upset MSU. It was just a tease of what's to come – he is skilled, has savvy and a nose for the net.

2. Billy Sauer, Michigan
Although he entered the weekend as the expected weak link in Michigan's arsenal of talent, the sophomore distinguished himself with two outstanding tournament performances. Sauer, who entered the weekend surrendering almost three goals a game, gave up just four goals on 57 shots. The quality of the chances he stopped were even better than the numbers.

1. David Brown, Notre Dame
As advertised, the senior netminder is an NHL-caliber goalie. His ability to read shooters and put himself in near-perfect position was on display all weekend, as he gave up just one goal in two days. Time and time again, Brown came up big when he had to and turned most good scoring chances into easy and near effortless saves

• In order to capture the school's first CCHA tourney crown, Notre Dame's players had to buy into Jackson's philosophy – limiting mistakes, taking the body whenever possible and methodically wearing down your opponent to stay close and win the game at the end.

That style of play required some new commitments from Notre Dame's players once Jackson took over.

"We were up before the sun many times (for workouts) on the ice skating, in the weight room, lifting running all around campus.'' David Brown said. "We really took the conditioning to a whole new level, which none of us had ever previously been exposed to.''

Added Erik Condra: "We definitely, especially the first year, we kind of felt him out and he felt us out, and there were many a days when we like, 'this dude's is crazy. He has us up before ... probably when he gets up regularly but we don't usually get up that early.''

Spartan Sports Zone luminary Dave Ellis pointed out shortly after MSU junior defenseman Daniel Vukovic's second goal on Saturday that three of the seven goals scored by North York, Ontario, native have been at Joe Louis Arena. Additionally, Ellis added that Vukovic's two goals on Saturday gave him his first multiple-goal game of his career. Vukovic also had an assist in the contest.

Furthermore, one of Vukovic's teammate feels that after the d-man's first career multiple-goal performance that he will be unbearable to deal with over the next few days. He's nicknamed John-Michael Vukovic (a reference to former Spartan John-Michael Liles and the offensive prowess he's shown with the Colorado Avalanche) for the upgrade in offense the normally defensive defenseman has shown this season.

"Oh God, we're going to have to deal with all week now. I don't know how we're going to do it,'' Abdelkader said with a laugh. "He'll probably be telling all of team to come watch the video of both of his goals because last time he scored a goal like that, he had the whole team over there trying to watch a video. We'll probably have to watch both of these goals all week but it's good, he played real well tonight.''


The quality of play exhibited by the two teams in the CCHA Championship game. It was billed as a high-energy showdown for the title between the No. 1 and 2 teams in the league and didn't disappoint.

Great scoring chances, hard hits and high quality goaltending from both CCHA Player of the Year David Brown of Notre Dame and Michigan's Billy Sauer made Saturday's final an instant classic.

In keeping with that recognition of high quality, the Irish made history with their first CCHA Tournament title in school history, led by veteran coach Jeff Jackson, who had previously won titles at Lake Superior State.

By guiding Notre Dame's program into a higher echelon of programs nationally, Jackson has given more credibility to the league as a whole by resurrecting a struggling program.

The effort put in by both the Lake Superior State players and their fans.

After losing to Notre Dame in the semifinal, the Lakers came into Saturday's consolation with absolutely nothing to play for and just a long bus ride back north, whether they won or lost. To their credit, the Lakers did themselves and the league proud with their play, attitude and character.

"We spent a lot of time in the postseason with our backs against the wall. All year long, we've battled through adversity,'' Laker captain Barnabas Birkeland said. "The guys poured their hearts out on the ice and it breaks my heart that they did everything that we have ever asked of them and we couldn't get the win. They gave everything they had to give and we just couldn't get it done.''

Although it was understandable, the disappointment expressed by Lakers coach Jim Roque after a tough loss went a bit too far. Judge for yourself after reading this quote:

"It was a tough way to lose a game in overtime on a play that was not really a result of a scoring chance,'' Roque said of the penalty on Baird. (But) if it helps Michigan State get in the NCAA Tournament, then so be it. That's great, I can live with that.''

In keeping with that theme, the tripping call made on LSSU's Baird was questionable at best. The Lakers deserved to win or lose the game on their own merits and not have the outcome determined by a special teams situation.


Notre Dame, Michigan and Michigan State will all be moving on to the NCAA Tournament, with their destinations set to be announced on Sunday at 2:30 p.m. ET.

Lake Superior State will not move on, although the team the Lakers beat to get to Detroit Miami is in line for a tourney bid.