March 18, 2012

Wake Up The Offense: Notre Dame Beats Denver in Triple Overtime

by Jack Hefferon | | Live Blog Replay

John Kemp made only seven saves and allowed a season-high nine goals, but he had several key stops late as Notre Dame downed Denver, 10-9, on Sunday.
© TD Paulius 

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Sunday's game between No. 8 Notre Dame and No. 9 Denver was a true epic. It had the atmosphere and the weather of a game played on Memorial Day weekend. It took three overtimes and nearly three hours to decide. It was the type of battle fitting of a top-10 matchup.

But it wasn't the game anyone expected.

Billed as a showdown between the high-flying Pioneer offense and Notre Dame's lockdown defense, the game was won by Notre Dame senior attackman Sean Rogers and the versatile Irish offense, 10-9, in triple overtime before 3,187 fans at Arlotta Stadium.

Rogers netted his third straight game-winner of the season with 2:35 left in the third extra-period to cap an atypical offensive display by the Irish (4-1), considering the low-scoring games they've played this season. Ten goals was their season-high.

The Irish's offensive explosion began in the first half as it rattled off five unanswered goals after Denver's (4-2) opening tally. That early outburst allowed the Irish to enter halftime with a 7-4 lead. The seven goals were scored by seven different players, all coming from a team that hadn't scored more than seven goals in a game all season.

"We lost the game, not on the last shot, but in the first half," Pioneers coach Bill Tierney said. "We were awful in the first half. You can't get down to a team that's averaging five goals a game, and give up seven in a half."

Sophomore attackman Westy Hopkins became the eighth Notre Dame scorer shortly after halftime, but then the Pioneers woke up and began their charge. Denver's fluid offense scored four straight goals to tie the game, 8-8, with 8:50 left in the fourth quarter. Three of those goals involved senior attackman Mark Matthews, a leading Tewaaraton Award candidate and the pivot of the unselfish Pioneer offense.

Even the nation's best defensive unit could only contain Denver's attack for so long.

"They're so hard to defend," Irish coach Kevin Corrigan said. "They have so many different guys who can hurt you and a couple of really great players, and we had to survive a couple like they did, where [junior goaltender] John [Kemp] gets hit or gets a big save or they miss a couple."

The teams traded quick goals and Jeremy Noble tied the score at 9 with 6:17 left in regulation for Denver, which then kept most of the possession through the close of regulation. With several chances to take the lead, Denver was unable to force Kemp to make a save. In the final six minutes, the Pioneers missed the cage several times, including on two shots in the final five seconds.

Tierney said Kemp's play (seven saves) may have forced his players to aim their shots for corners too often. Regardless of the reasons, the third-year Denver coach was disappointed by his team's shooting.

"John's a heck of a goalie," Tierney said. "It could be a little of that, where we're aiming too hard for corners. We got 40 shots, but that's not a moral victory. They won, and the only difference was that we didn't put the shots on goal, and they did."

In overtime, the goaltenders both put on a show. Near the close of the first overtime, junior midfielder Cameron Flint beat Kemp and appeared to win the game for the Pioneers, but Kemp dove backwards to swat the ball off of the goal-line.

Kemp may have let in some uncharacteristically soft goals early, but the majority of his saves came late in the game when the Irish needed them most. Nine goals against was a season-worst for the junior goaltender, but Corrigan said that Kemp, a Tewaaraton contender in his own right, still had enough to get the job done.

"John's terrific," Corrigan said. "Even on a day that may not be his best day, he's awfully doggone good. And I think that was the truth today."

In the other crease, sophomore Jamie Faus was sensational for the Pioneers, as well. Faus made 11 saves and denied a point-blank quick-stick attempt from Hopkins at the first overtime buzzer, then stopped a laser from Rogers with his facemask in the second overtime. But, while running out for the third extra session, Faus collapsed with apparent cramps, leaving senior backup Troy Orzech to come in cold.

Tierney said after the game that his initial impression was Faus either cramped or pulled something in his leg, and that he'd have to see a doctor before Denver knew Faus' availability for Tuesday's game against Cornell. Faus didn't put any weight on his leg as he was helped off the field.

The first shot on goal Orzech faced was Rogers' game-winner, his second goal of the day and second straight winning OT goal for the Irisih. He did it a week earlier against Hofstra as well. Ryan Foley assisted on this one. Sophomore Jim Marlatt had a team-high three points on two goals and one assist while Hopkins notched one goal and two assists.

"We didn't change our strategy at all," Corrigan said. "We were afraid, in fact, that our guys might think that they didn't have to get a great opportunity, that they might settle for an OK shot now because they had the cold goalie coming in. So I was glad that we were patient enough and waited for a great chance, and Sean thankfully finished it off."

Off the win, the Irish travel to Ohio State to face the Buckeyes on Wednesday. The Pioneers will have even less time to recover from the marathon in South Bend, as they'll continue their road trip vs. Cornell on Tuesday on Long Island.

Asked how his team would physically and mentally recover in less than two days to play at another top-10 team, Tierney was effectively stumped.

"That's a good question. I have no idea," he said. "We know Cornell's a tough team. We've got to travel on one day's rest. But this is why we schedule this way, to make it tough and see if we can get our guys ready for the end of the year. This will certainly provide us with that opportunity."

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