Summerhays Shines In CCHA Playoffs

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In his first 22 career starts, Steven Summerhays had never recorded a shutout for Notre Dame.

But late in the season, the sophomore goalie has emerged as a force for the Irish, shutting out Michigan State (Feb. 24) and Ohio State (March 2) in back-to-back starts. Following his performance in game one of the best-of-three set with the Buckeyes, Summerhays earned first-star honors again in the 4-2 clincher last Saturday night.

Over those three games, his .978 save percentage far surpasses his .908 average. His two wins this weekend secured a victory in the first-round of the CCHA tournament.

"He's playing with confidence right now," head coach Jeff Jackson said. "The thing I've been clamoring for all year is consistency. I was curious to see when we gave up the early goal tonight how he'd respond, and he responded very well.

"He's had a good streak here the last couple times he's played. I thought he could have had a problem [Saturday], but I thought he responded, came back and made some huge saves for us at key points in the game."

Summerhays probably received a major confidence boost in the second period Friday, when Ohio State had two men close to the net. Despite the huge scoring chance, the Buckeyes were denied on a diving highlight-reel save that got the crowd roaring.

"When you make a big save, the whole entire crowd and the bench is going, and I think Johns and a couple other guys were yelling at me from the ice," Summerhays said. "It's a good feeling - it gives you more confidence for the rest of the game. It's just like anybody else making a big hit or scoring a goal."

Thanks in part to Summerhays, the Irish have won three of their last four in time for the postseason. Ranked 18th in the USCHO.com poll, Notre Dame sits on the bubble of the 16-team NCAA tournament.

"I think it's the way we start games and being able to sustain the same momentum for longer periods of time," said senior co-captain Billy Maday, who tallied three goals on the weekend. "Scoring the first goal is something I think our team needs and we've been able to do that recently.

"I think we've matured a little bit. And aside from that, I think we recognize that these games are really important, and our team responds to pressure pretty well."

This Irish squad knows a little about playing with pressure. As a three seed in the NCAA tournament last year, Notre Dame reached the Frozen Four before losing to eventual champion Minnesota-Duluth 4-3.

"I think this is the first time it really felt like last year," said sophomore Mike Voran, who scored the game-winning goal Saturday. "Obviously, it's a brand new year, and we kind of want to separate ourselves from last year, but you remember how fun it was to make a run.

"We're excited. I think we're coming together as a team at the perfect time. You know, you can feel it on the bench. Guys were up, guys were getting up for each other, whether it's a first-line guy, fourth-line guy - everyone was pulling their weight."

That's something the Irish have missed at times this season - secondary scoring. In the regular season, nearly 30 percent of the team's goals came from just two players: sophomores Anders Lee and T.J. Tynan.

But with goals from Maday, Voran, Lee and sophomore Jeff Costello, scoring came from three different lines over the two games. Four of the six goals came from the third line of Voran, Maday and sophomore David Gerths.

"I was playing them up against their top line at times tonight, so I don't really look at any of those three lines as being a third line. But it helps a lot when you get some depth in your scoring, and that's something we've lacked most of the year," said Jackson. "That's how you're going to win, because you're not going to see a lot of 3-, 4-goal games in the playoffs. It's tough."

After Notre Dame's first series sweep since November, the Irish will try to advance to the CCHA tournament semifinals in Detroit. Standing in their way is second-seeded foe Michigan, with whom the Irish split a series at home in January.

"I think the first 10 minutes of the first game are going to be huge," said Voran. "When you're on the road, you definitely want to pick up the first game. You go down one game on the road, and the fans get into it. Just being mentally prepared and the first 10 minutes are I think the biggest things we need to focus on."

Round two of the CCHA tournament will take place this Friday and Saturday at Yost Arena in Ann Arbor, Mich., with a game three on Sunday if necessary.

- Craig Chval ('15)

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