Power plays and penalty kills were a strong influence in Friday night’s game between the No. 13 Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Northern Michigan Wildcats. The Irish scored three power-play goals to earn a 3-2 win. Tonight’s game began in a similar fashion, as the Irish scored two power-play goals early to take a 4-2 victory over the Wildcats.
“I’m pleasantly surprised to come out of here with two wins because I know how good of a team Northern is,” Irish Coach Jeff Jackson said. “This was motivation for us. We needed to show we were alive after last week’s methodical, uncreative games. This weekend we showed a lot more patience with the puck and poise with the puck and it allowed us to generate more offense.”
The penalty box welcomed Wildcats’ center Mark Olver at 4:51 when he took a contact to the head/high sticking call. Twenty-three seconds later the Irish power play scored their fourth goal in a row this series with a shot from Kyle Lawson that went right off Wildcats’ goalie Brian Stewart.
“It’s all about the bounces in the beginning, getting a goal here and there, getting the momentum going,” Irish winger Calle Ridderwall said. “We had some early goals tonight and just built off of that. Having the lead makes you feel good and you just want to build off of it. Getting that momentum is huge and really important to us.”
Wildcats’ captain Tim Hartung took a slashing call at 6:34 in the second. Irish winger Billy Maday took advantage of the five-on-four and put the puck past Stewart stick side after a few rebounds.
“After an 0-for-18 weekend on the power play, we worked on our power play every day this past week,” Jackson said. “I think we found the chemistry this week, and that’s what a power play is: it’s the chemistry of people willing to accept roles and putting defensemen in front of the net. You have to find people willing to do what they need to do in order to be successful.”
“Our penalty kill was really bad, really bad against a good power play,” Wildcats’ Coach Walt Kyle said. “They did a good job against us. It’s something we have to come back and do a better job with. They’re a really good defensive team and we didn’t get a lot of second chances at all and that was a problem.”
The Irish got an even-strength goal nine seconds after another power play ended. This shot, too, went stick side of Stewart, and came from Ian Cole.
At 15:31 the Irish made it 4-0 with a goal from Ridderwall, who put it right of Stewart.
“I’m disappointed with the goals we let in tonight,” Kyle said. “They were results of some of our older guys trying to cheat and they can’t do that. Everybody’s got to pay the price, everybody’s got to work.”
“Early goals always take the wind out of your sails and you’ve got to come back from those, put them behind you and go after that goal to tie it up,” Wildcats’ forward Mike Maltese said. “Being down 4-0 is tough. You yourself are down and you want to get yourself going and get your teammates going. You just want to come out flying, bang some bodies, get the momentum going and get the goals on your side.”
Pride on the line, the Wildcats got their first with just 14.1 seconds left in the period. Maltese gave the puck to Matt Butcher, who shot it from the right faceoff circle. Irish goalie Jordan Pearce had the save, but sent the puck right to Ray Kaunisto, who buried it into a nearly empty net.
“All weekend, Mike Maltese got a kick at it,” Kyle said. “That line really stepped up. Kaunisto, Maltese and Butcher were the best line we had on the ice.”
This is Maltese’s first series this season.
“Walt gave me a shot and I wanted to prove I can be in the lineup every day and help my team,” Maltese said. “Butcher and Kaunisto are pretty big guys and my job is to hit people and get the puck to those two guys. They’re the goal scorers and they know what to do with the puck. We just want to work hard, cycle down low, keep puck possession and just go from there.”
“We let them get away from us in the second,” Kyle said. “Their first two goals were power-play goals and they got away from us there. But I was really encouraged with our third period. I benched a lot of guys and we played a lot of different guys and they all played hard out there. I liked it that they never stopped.”
The third period went scoreless, despite a power play for each team, until 14:58. Wildcats’ Justin Florek and Andrew Cherniwchan played with the puck, sending Pearce all over the crease. Winger Phil Fox buried it past Pearce’s outstretched glove to give the game a final score of 4-2.
“What we saw in the third period is what we anticipated for the whole game and we saw that in spurts,” Jackson said of the Wildcats’ dramatic ending.
“We’re really disappointed with the outcome of these games,” Maltese said. “You’ve got to work for three periods. We always turn it on with 8-9 minutes left in the game and we’ve got to get that momentum through the whole game start to finish. We just want to use that same desire we play with in the last 10 minutes for all three periods. We want that flying out of the gate, first period, first shift and get bodies banging and go from there.”
“Our fans were great tonight despite the loss,” Kyle said. “It’s not fun losing. A year ago right now we were 1-7-1 and this year we’re 2-5-1. We’ve shown we can play with these teams, but we need to show that we can beat them. That’s the step we have to take.”