Life an ice party for Notre Dame

Tribune Staff Writer

SOUTH BEND -- Forget the beach. Notre Dame celebrated the beginning of its spring break with a little ice party Friday night.

Returning to the ice for the first time in almost two weeks, the No. 1 ranked Notre Dame hockey team blitzed Alaska with overwhelming speed and ferocious physical play, pummeling the Nanooks with a 7-1 rout to open the second round of the CCHA conference tournament in front of a frenzied, sold-out Joyce Center crowd.

Garrett Regan scored twice, Erik Condra added four assists, and Justin White added three assists for the Irish. Lost amid all the offensive fireworks was another stellar performance by ND goalie David Brown, who stopped 16 of 17 shots for his 26th win between the pipes this season.

"There's no question we were flying, we were moving our feet," said Irish coach Jeff Jackson. "It's playoffs, and once you start the playoffs, the game gets more physical, more intense."

"It's playoff time, you gotta be intense all the time," seconded Condra.Notre Dame showed that intensity both with the puck and with the bodies. If the Irish weren't buzzing around the Alaska net like a swarm of angry bees, they were hammering the Nanooks into the boards like a handful of six-foot tall nails.

"It's playoff hockey. It's supposed to be that way," said Alaska coach Tavis MacMillan. "If it wasn't physical, it'd be women's hockey -- no hitting. This isn't women's hockey. It's men's hockey."

Irish defenseman Wes O'Neill picked the perfect time to end his scoreless drought when he put the Irish up 1-0 at the 3:06 mark of the first period. With Notre Dame pushing the Nanooks to the boards with superb forechecking, O'Neill skated untouched into the slot, where Condra found him with a pinpoint pass. O'Neill flipped it by Alaska goalie Wylie Rogers for his first goal in 42 games.

"We've been encouraging him to be more effective and get in the (offensive) game," said Jackson. "He could be a 15-goal scorer in this league as a defenseman."

Regan took a beautiful drop pass from Noah Babin in the left circle before rocketing it high past Rogers to put the Irish up by a pair at the 6:44 mark.Defenseman Brock Sheahan continued the onslaught at the 9:34 mark when he took a wide-open pass from Condra inside the left circle and flipped it high past Rogers to make it 3-0.

"It was good for our team to have some defensemen involved offensively," said Jackson.

Regan added his second goal less than five minutes later just as an Irish power play expired. Regan took a pass from O'Neill in the right circle

and snapped it high into the net to chase Rogers from the crease in favor of Chad Johnson.

It took less than a minute to torture the Nanooks' backup as well. Jason Paige, sitting to the right edge of the crease, deflected Ryan Thang's shot to Johnson's glove side to make it 5-0 at the 15:27 mark.By the time the smoke had cleared, ten different Irish had tallied at least a point in Notre Dame's most prolific period since also scoring five against the same Alaska team in the second period of Notre Dame's 6-2 win on Dec. 3, 2006.

"The other team was playing 100 miles an hour and we were playing 50," said MacMillan. "It's tough to play against a team going twice as fast as you are."

Freshman defenseman Kyle Lawson, playing perhaps one of the finest games of his young Irish career, made it 6-0 late in the second period when he took another masterfully crafted pass from Condra in the right circle before zipping it high past Johnson.

"Kyle's been a special player all year," said Jackson. "This was just one of his better performances."

Just one shift earlier, Lawson had to skate off the ice after being hit hard in front of the Nanooks net.Mark Van Guilder finally joined the fun 58 seconds into the third period when he tapped a Regan pass past Johnson for his team-high 18th goal of the year.

Brown's shutout bid was broken a bit later when Nathan Fornataro punched one past the Irish goalie just as a Nanook power play expired.

With a win in game two tonight, the Irish (28-6-3) can clinch the best-of-three series and move on to next Friday's semifinals at the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. Game three, if necessary, would be Sunday night.

In the end, Jackson warned his team to look only at the future.

"This Alaskateam is a lot better than what we saw tonight. We have to be ready for them tomorrow, because they're going to come out mad, and I wouldn't blame them."In his own locker room, MacMillan put it to the Nanooks (11-21-6) more bluntly.

"It's not a one-game series. It's a three-game series. Get undressed, and let's go."

Alaska 0 0 1 -- 1
Notre Dame 5 1 1 -- 7

FIRST PERIOD: ND, Wes O'Neill (Erik Condra, Ryan Thang) 3:06; ND, Garrett Regan (Noah Babin, Christiaan Minella) 6:44; ND, Brock Sheahan (Condra, Kevin Deeth) 9:34; ND, Regan (O'Neill, Justin White) 14:25; ND, Jason Paige (Thang, Condra) pp 15:27.Penalties: UA, Braden Walls (charging) 7:45; ND, Paige (interference); UA, Jeff Lee (hooking) 12:23; UA, Adam Naglich (tripping) 14:47, UA, Walls (holding)17:42; ND, Minella (holding, roughing)17:42.

SECOND PERIOD: ND, Kyle Lawson (Condra, White) 16:14.

Penalties: ND, Josh Sciba (hooking) 4:41; UA, Jordan Pernarowski (hooking) 7:11; UA, Kyle Greentree (roughing) 7:11, ND, Paige (roughing) 7:11; UA, Brandon Gawryletz (tripping) 11:16; UA, Nathan Fornataro (cross-checking) 16:49; UA, Walls (charging) 19:41.

THIRD PERIOD: ND, Mark Van Guilder (Regan, White) pp 0:58; UA, Nathan Fornataro (Jeff Lee, Ryan Muspratt) 4:41.

Penalties: ND, Minella (roughing) 2:38; ND, Minella (tripping) 6:33; UA, Lucas Burnett (hooking) 9:29; UA, Greentree (cross-checking) 10:06.Shots on goal: UA 6-3-8 -- 17, ND 15-11-5 -- 31; Goalies: UA, Wylie Rogers (13 shots, 9 saves) Chad Johnson (18, 15), ND, David Brown (17, 16); Power plays: UA 0-for-5, ND 2-for-10; Referee: Matt Shegos; Linesmen: Kevin Langseth, John Philo ; Attendance -- 2,763.