End is hard to accept for Notre Dame's 11 seniors
ST. PAUL, Minn. — For the majority of Notre Dame’s 11 seniors, hockey will still be in their future after Saturday night's overtime gut-punch from St. Cloud State.
The prospects of pending pro careers wasn't much solace, though. Not after coming so close to finally breaking through against St. Cloud, the same team that ended Notre Dame's season last year in the NCAA tournament.
Nic Dowd's wrist shot with 2:39 left in overtime of the West Regional semifinal at Xcel Energy Center eluded Irish senior goaltender Steven Summerhays, and in an instant, those 11 seniors saw their ND careers come to an end.
"It didn't really sink in until standing in the locker room after about 10 minutes," senior right winger Bryan Rust said, tears in his raw, red eyes. "Not only ending the season on a heartbreaking goal like that, but also ending our seniors' four years, it's something you can't put into words because you just feel so bad."
On the deciding play, David Morely stole the puck from defenseman Stephen Johns at the blueline as he tried to break out of the Irish zone. Morely found Dowd rushing up the left side, and Dowd said after the game that his shot from the left circle tipped off Notre Dame defenseman Kevin Lind's stick, into the top right corner of the net.
It ended a frantic overtime session for the Irish, who held St. Cloud to just 12 shots on goal in the first three periods combined, but allowed 16 shots in overtime alone. The harder they pushed to get that final goal and keep the season alive, the more chances the Huskies got, and it finally caught up to the Irish.
"I think in the beginning stages of overtime, we were panicking a little bit," Rust said. "We just couldn't get that one extra bounce, that one extra play to go our way and end it on a higher note."
Rust, a Pittsburgh Penguins draft pick who scored Notre Dame's first goal Saturday night to finish with a team-high 17 this season, will play again, as will Johns and Lind, T.J. Tynan, Jeff Costello, Shayne Taker, and very likely Summerhays, whose strong goaltending down the stretch should garner some pro interest.
But all that mattered Saturday night was getting back to the Frozen Four like they had done as freshmen in 2011.
"I don't think there's any easy way to go out besides winning a national championship," Summerhays said. "I was proud of the way we fought all game. We never had a lead and we kept battling back. It was a lot different than last year (against St. Cloud) when we walked out after 5-1 and were embarrassed with ourselves. I think everyone saw that we outplayed them for almost the whole game and didn't quite get our breaks. That's just the way hockey is in a single elimination."
More was expected from this group after their early success. They still managed to win the CCHA's final Mason Cup championship last year, and went to the NCAA tournament three out of their four years. But thoughts of what could have been may haunt them for some time.
"We had a very good team that was definitely capable of going to the Frozen Four, I think, and winning that," Summerhays said. "We proved it by beating Minnesota and Boston College this year. It's just tough. Some guys, that's the last game they'll ever play. I don't know if I'll ever get to play competitively like that again, so it's tough.
"Our senior group, we've had so many ups and downs. We'll always be able to look back to last year and have that CCHA championship memory, but I think we'll always remember this year as missed opportunities."
SCSU - Ryan Papa, 6 (Kalle Kossila, Jonny Brodzinski) 6:54; ND - Bryan Rust, 17 (Andy Ryan, T.J. Tynan) 10:30; SCSU - Brooks Bertsch, 3 (Cory Thorson, Joey Benik) 19:25. Shots on goal: ND 9, SCSU 6; Penalties: ND 1-2, SCSU 0-0.
ND - Kevin Lind, 3 (Mario Lucia, Peter Schneider) 8:18; SCSU - Brodzinski, 21 (Kossila, Ethan Prow) PP, 19:35. Shots: ND 18, SCSU 4; Penalties: ND 1-2, SCSU 1-2.
ND - Thomas DiPauli, 3 (Rust, Eric Johnson) 9:35. Shots: ND 9, SCSU 2; Penalties: ND 1-2, SCSU 0-0.
SCSU - Nic Dowd, 22 (David Morley) 17:21. Shots: SCSU 16, ND 6; Penalties: ND 2-4, SCSU 0-0.
SCSU 2 1 1 1 - 4;
ND 1 1 1 0 - 3
Shots: ND 42, SCSU 28; Saves: SCSU 39 (Ryan Faragher), ND 24 (Steven Summerhays); Power plays: SCSU 1-5, ND 0-1; Penalties: ND 5-10, SCSU 1-2; Attendance: 9,232.