On the strength of two quick, late second-period goals and in front of another solid defensive performance, the Miami RedHawks beat the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, 3-2, to sweep the weekend series in South Bend.
“Notre Dame’s a great team,” said Miami head coach Enrico Blasi. “We played them this weekend knowing that it was going to be a tough test both nights. I think our guys played pretty good for the weekend.”
On paper, the game looked closer than it was. Tied 1-1 after two, the RedHawks dominated the second period with a 13-shot differential that resulted in those two goals by Justin Mercier and Alexandre Lacombe just over a minute apart, one of which came on the power play. Notre Dame’s third goal of the night was scored by Christian Hanson at 18:34 in the third, with netminder Jordan Pearce pulled in favor of an extra attacker.
“I thought we competed a little bit harder and generated a little bit more deep in the offensive zone,” said Notre Dame head coach Jeff Jackson. “They didn’t look like they had a young defense or goaltending, so kudos to them. It’s early in the season, and we’ve got a lot of work to do to recover. That’s what it’s all about right now.”
The teams exchanged goals in the first period, with Miami’s Gary Steffes netting his fifth of the season and second of the weekend on the power play at 10:40, a tip-in of Andy Miele’s shot from Tommy Wingels.
Ian Cole answered for Notre Dame at 15:45 when he skated into the Miami zone, held up and bided his time before ripping the puck through traffic — and through the legs of a RedHawk defender — to give the Irish their first goal of the weekend against Miami and the 1-1 tie after one.
In the second period, the RedHawks outshot the Irish 15-2 differential and came out two goals ahead for their efforts. Mercier’s goal was a power-play tally on a cross-crease feed from Carter Camper at 17:10, and Lacombe capitalized on the rebound left by Brandon Smith’s shot at 18:32.
“It didn’t feel like we had 15-2 shots,” said Blasi. “We had to kill some penalties, and our power play did a nice job on the goals. I didn’t feel like that on the bench, but when you look at the stats, I guess it was.”
Both teams had penalties called in succession in the second period, but each earned four minor infractions and eight minutes total in the middle stanza. In Friday’s 2-0 Miami win, the Irish were called for just five minors in the whole game to tonight’s 10, and there were 44 total minutes called tonight to last night’s 30.
“There was a lot more special teams,” said Jackson. “Our strength is when we’re playing five-on-five. I thought that actually we were playing pretty well five-on-five, and then two or three penalties in a row, and that changes the whole momentum in the game.”
The RedHawks were 2-for-7 on the power play, the Irish 0-for-8. Pearce finished the game with 21 saves on 24 Miami shots. RedHawk rookie Connor Knapp made 17 saves in his second win of the season. Miami has been rotating its two freshmen goalies, with Cody Reichard playing Fridays and Knapp Saturdays. Reichard had the shutout Friday, the first of his career.
Jackson said that Notre Dame’s two goals on the weekend have as much to do with the RedHawks playing “hard in front of” their two new netminders. “They make it difficult to get pucks through. If we’re going to generate scoring chances, we have to compete in those gritty, goal-scoring areas, and that’s how we scored the only two goals we had tonight.”
Next week, Miami (3-1-2, 3-0-1-0 CCHA), undefeated in league play and at the top of the conference standings, hosts Alaska for two games. The Irish (2-3-0, 0-2-0-0) travel to Northern Michigan next weekend in search of their first league points.