Notre Dame faced off against Michigan Thursday night in a game that was shown on semi-national television via the CBS Sports Network. Notre Dame escaped with a 3-1 victory in the first of a two game CCHA series. I was able to watch the game, and here were a few of my thoughts.
Michigan absolutely controlled the first period of play, and Notre Dame was very lucky to only be down one goal at the first intermission. Justin Selman took advantage of a bad Notre Dame turnover and buried his first career goal. Michigan had a number of high-quality chances, including a beauty of a play by freshman Andrew Copp to break in on his backhand and quickly get the puck over to his forehand for a quick shot that rang off the crossbar. Jacob Trouba barely missed a goal on an excellent pinch from the point.
Michigan didn't really do much after that, aside from a couple chances in the third period. Notre Dame completely controlled the second period, and Michigan was lucky to only give up one goal and head into the third period tied. Notre Dame got a nice short-handed goal when TJ Tynan made a nice saucer pass on a 2-on-1 and Mike Voran was able to one-time it into the net.
Play evened out in the third period, with Michigan perhaps having a slight edge. AJ Treais took a long pass and broke in on a semi-breakaway but wasn't able to get a shot on net, and Alex Guptill thought he scored when he beat Notre Dame goalie Steve Summerhays with a shot, but the puck hit the top of the cross bar. Notre Dame got the breakthrough goal with just over 5 minutes left in regulation when Bryan Rust picked up a puck behind the net and wrapped it around and into the net before Michigan goalie Steve Racine could get back to cover his net.
Once they took the lead, Notre Dame continued to press, rather than sit on their lead. They were rewarded with about a minute and a half left when, after some heavy pressure, a shot from the point bounced off Racine, off a Michigan defender, and ricocheted into the net. Michigan never really had a serious scoring after Notre Dame took the lead and Notre Dame took the critical three league points.
The CCHA being what it is, it wouldn't shock me if Michigan came back and won tomorrow night to earn a split in the series, but for now, man, does this look like a team that is in trouble. I don't think you can ever fault a goalie for a loss when the offense only puts up one goal, but it's clearly an issue for Michigan. The game-winning goal was not a pretty one. Racine is very slow to recover when he gets out of position, and goals scored with him completely out of the net are starting to become a trend. I still don't see him being the regular guy for Michigan, but the Wolverines also don't have a better option at this time. Their offense isn't able to compensate for that either, at least on a consistent basis because their power play is not very good.
Individually, I continue to be very impressed by Jacob Trouba. Freshman forwards Boo Nieves, Justin Selman and Andrew Copp had nice moments as well. AJ Treais showed flashes of Kevin Porter when he skated across the blueline and took a long outlet pass to split the defense in the third period. He couldn't convert tonight, but he is quietly leading the country in goals scored. Michigan may need him to continue scoring at that pace to carry their offense.
After a shaky first period, you have to give credit to Notre Dame for tightening things up defensively and then making plays in crunch time. Like I talked about with Denver last week, in order to win a conference championship, a team has to find ways to win when they don't play their best, and that's what Notre Dame did tonight. Notre Dame still lacks a little offensive firepower, but with so much talent up and down this roster, they're definitely up there with the best in the country. I thought Shayne Taker had a pretty nice game. He doesn't get a lot of attention among some highly-drafted prospects, but he's a solid free agent target, assuming the NHL ever comes back.
These two teams conclude their series tomorrow evening with a 7:35 EST face-off.