MANCHESTER, N.H. — There’s plenty of fight in these Irish.
When Merrimack scored a shorthanded goal to take a 2-0 lead late in the first, Notre Dame answered 27 seconds later to cut the deficit in half. When the Irish trailed 3-2 entering the third period, they outshot the Warriors 17-4 and managed to force overtime.
And when they were getting completely dominated to start overtime, they called a timeout, settled down and netted the winner less than a minute later to advance to Sunday’s regional final with a 4-3 win.
“Obviously we’re thrilled to advance,” said Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson. “Certainly it was an up and down game, like a boxing match. Merrimack put us on our heels early. … It’s fortunate that our guys never say never and got it done.”
Merrimack came out flying to start overtime and registered the first six shots of the extra session. Unfortunately for the Warriors, Notre Dame goalie Mike Johnson (32 saves) was nothing short of spectacular in bonus time.
First he robbed Stephane Da Costa with a glove save on a rebound bid. Next up was a pad save on Rhett Bly’s one-timer from the slot. Then it was locating a Karl Stollery slapper through heavy traffic and hanging onto the rebound as two Warriors jammed away.
“If it wasn’t for Mike Johnson,” Jackson said, “we wouldn’t be here talking about a victory.”
Jackson finally called a timeout around the 4:30 mark to try and settle his team down.
“Any coach would’ve called a timeout in that circumstance,” Jackson said. “The pressure was on us. I just told our guys to calm down. We were turning over too many pucks.”
On the first shift out of the timeout, the Irish managed to get the puck deep for the first time in overtime. Then, in the blink of an eye, the game ended on a completely inconspicuous play that left everyone wondering what just happened.
Merrimack’s Carter Madsen circled behind his own net and cut inside a forechecking Anders Lee to start a rush up ice. After it appeared Madsen had already gotten by him, Lee spun around and blindly whacked at the puck, knocking it off Madsen’s stick and through the five-hole of an unsuspecting Joe Cannata (33 saves).
“I just went into the forecheck as hard as I could and swung for it,” Lee said. “And the next thing I knew, it was in the back of the net.”
The Warriors opened the scoring with a power-play goal from Kyle Bigos 13:23 into the first. They made it 2-0 less than three minutes later when Da Costa fed Ryan Flanigan on a shorthanded 2-on-1.
But just when it appeared Merrimack was on the verge of taking over the game, the Irish regrouped and scored just 27 seconds later on the same power play when Calle Ridderwall one-timed home a pass from Billy Maday.
“That’s such a huge momentum swing,” Jackson said. “Shorthanded goals are those goals that are momentum changers. And then the other type of momentum goals are when you score right after a goal. That was a complete momentum switch from one direction to another.”
After Merrimack regained its two-goal lead early in the second, Lee pulled Notre Dame back within one later in the period with his first of two fluky goals. He flicked a wrister on net from the top of the left circle that Cannata just misjudged and watched bounce off his glove and in.
Maday netted the equalizer for the Irish 5:32 into the third. After a miscommunication between Cannata and one of his defenders, Maday swooped in to poke a loose puck into the cage.
“We have been through a lot of adversity this year,” Maday said. “We were confident in the locker room and we knew our chemistry could carry us through any adversity.”
Notre Dame will face New Hampshire in the Northeast Regional final Sunday at 8 p.m.