Nothing brings out the best in the Notre Dame hockey team like White Out Night.
For the second year in a row, with a sell-out crowd of 5,022 wearing white, the Irish handed the MichiganWolverines a loss, this time by a score of 7-4.
The Irish forward line of Jeff Costello (three assists), Anders Lee (two goals) and Bryan Rust (a career-high four-point night on two goals and two assists) combined for nine points in the game while David Gerths added two goals and defenseman Eric Johnson scored the first goal of his collegiate career in the victory.
Jon Merrill, Cristoval “Boo” Nieves, Andrew Copp and Derek DeBlois each scored once for Michigan as the Wolverines scored once on the power play and a pair of short-handed goals in the game.
The win gives the Irish a two-game unbeaten streak (1-0-1) and improves them to 17-11-1 overall and 13-7-1-1 in the CCHA, good for 41 points and third-place in the standings, three points behind second-place Miami and five behind first-place Western Michigan (46). Michigan falls to 10-17-2 on the year and 7-14-2-2 in conference play.
“I thought that we played fine on the five-on-five,” said Irish head coach Jeff Jackson. “I didn’t like the two short-handed goals and the power play goal; special teams is a concern for me. Tonight we responded when we gave up a goal. That was what we did in the first half of the season. The fact that we came back is what is important.”
It didn’t take long for the line of Costello, Rust and Lee to start percolating as they staked the Irish to a 1-0 lead just 1:16 into the game as Lee banged the rebound of a shot by Costello past Wolverine goaltender Jared Rutlege for his team-best 15th goal of the season. Rust picked up his first assist of the night on the play.
“That line has been our most consistent line all season,” said Jackson. “Anders (Lee) started us off. They helped lead us tonight. That’s great for an upper class line to play like that tonight.”
Some strong defense by senior left wing Nick Larson led to Gerths giving Notre Dame a 2-0 lead at 16:02 of the period. Larson picked the pocket of a Michigan forward at center ice and carried the puck into the Wolverine offensive zone. His shot deflected off a Michigan defender and deflected to Gerths as he cut through the slot. The junior center carried the puck on goal and lifted a backhander over Rutledge for his fifth of the season.
Michigan got one back before the end of the first as Merrill hammered a shot from the center point on the power play past Mike Johnson for his first of the year at 18:32 to cut the Irish lead to 2-1. The start was the second consecutive start for Notre Dame’s senior goaltender.
The Wolverines tied the game just 37 seconds into the second period off a strong forechecking effort by right wing Kevin Lynch who forced a turnover before passing in front to Nieves who whipped a quick shot past Johnson for his eighth of the year to make it2-2.
Rust would get that goal back on the power play at 6:29 off a great feed from Costello. Defenseman Shayne Taker kept the puck in at the left point and moved it into the left circle to Costello who got past a defenseman before feeding the puck across the slot to a wide-open Rust who drilled it past Rutledge for his eighth goal of the year to give the Irish a 3-2 lead.
Michigan answered back with its first of two short-handed goals on the night at 16:19 as the Wolverinesforced an Irish turnover in the neutral zone with Copp driving on Johnson down the right side. His first shot was stopped by the senior goaltender but the rebound came right back to him and he tucked it under Johnson’s pads for his sixth of the season to even the score at 3-3.
Lee let the Wolverines enjoy the tie game for 40 seconds as he scored on what was left of the power play at 16:59 on a pretty passing play by his linemates. Lee carried through center ice and left the puck for Rust who redirected a little, no-look, behind-the-back pass to Costello who drove on the goal before feeding it to Lee in the crease where he redirected it past Rutlegde for his second of the night and 16th of the year to make it 4-3.
“I thought we had a good week in practice and we stayed relaxed out there and just had some fun,” said Rust. “We got the bounces to night and were able to find each other out there and make some plays.”
Lee’s goal was the first of three straight for the Irish as they built the lead to 6-3 midway through the third period.
Johnson collected his first career goal and first game winner at 7:05 of the third when he hammered a slap shot from the right circle past Rutledge to make it 5-3.
Gerths scored his second of the night at 8:26 when he stripped a Michigan defender inside the blue line and raced into alone to beat Rutledge for an unassisted goal, his sixth of the year to make it 6-3.
The Irish would go on a power play at 11:04 of the third and the Wolverines would turn it into their fourth goal of the night when DeBlois took the puck away from an Irish defender and beat Johnson with a shot between his pads at 11:51 for his seventh of the season. The goal marked the first time that Notre Dame had given up two shorties in a game since December 2, 2000 in a 5-2 loss at Miami.
Rust would close out the scoring at 19:45 with his second of the game as Thomas DiPauli blocked a shot and moved it ahead to Rust who carried it in on an empty goal to score his ninth of the season and his fourth point of the night in the 7-4 victory.
Notre Dame out shot Michigan, 35-22, in the game. Rutledge had 28 saves while Johnson had 18 in the game.
The two teams will close out the weekend and regular-season series with a 7:05 p.m. game on Saturday night at the Compton Family Ice Arena. Notre Dame has won the first three meetings this season.