Irish upset Wolverines in OT, advance to first title game

DENVER -- Michigan has Notre Dame's number on the football field. Not so the ice.

Calle Ridderwall punched the puck past freshman goalie Bryan Hogan 5:44 into overtime Thursday night, giving Notre Dame a 5-4 victory over the top-ranked Wolverines in the Frozen Four semifinals.

Ridderwall's second goal of the night sent the Irish into a frenzied, pile-on celebration at center ice while the heavily favored Wolverines stood in stunned silence, dreams of their first championship in a decade dashed at the hands of the upstart Fighting Irish, of all teams.

Notre Dame (27-15-4) will face Boston College for the championship Saturday night at the Pepsi Center. The Eagles routed North Dakota 6-1 in the other semifinal to reach the title game for the third straight season.

The Fighting Irish are seeking their first national championship in hockey and the Eagles (24-11-8) are going for their third. They won in 1949 and 2001.

Notre Dame had never reached the Frozen Four before, while this was Michigan's 23rd trip. The Irish jumped ahead 3-0 after one period only to watch the Wolverines storm back and force the first overtime at the Frozen Four since Minnesota beat Michigan 3-2 in the 2003 semifinals.

"There was no time I felt comfortable in that game," said Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson, who led Lake Superior State to two national titles in the 1990s. "Even though we started off well ... they're just too explosive of a team."

Before giving up the game-winner, Hogan had saved 18 of 19 shots after Billy Sauer, who was 30-4-3 this season with a 1.89 goals against average, got the hook from coach Red Berenson after the first period.

"He came in, he's a freshman, he's played what four or five games?" Chad Kolarik said. "He did a heck of a job. I just thanked him. He gave us seniors a chance. That's all you can ask from your goalie."

The Wolverines got back into it by scoring two goals 15 seconds apart midway through the second period. Kolarik scored from the slot against Jordan Pearce, and Matt Rust backhanded the puck past Pearce to make it 3-2.

Suddenly, the Wolverines looked everything like the team that's been here so many times before and the Fighting Irish looked like the Frozen Four novices they are.

Kolarik tied it at 3 at 2:16 of the third period with a rebound goal after Aaron Palushaj hit the post on a power play.

The Irish regained the lead on Kevin Deeth's goal at 11:30 on Notre Dame's second shot of the third period, but the Wolverines tied it up again with 5:21 remaining on Carl Hagelin's backhander.

Instead of having the momentum, however, the Wolverines were tentative in overtime and the Irish took the fight to them.

"We just said we have one overtime to get to play in a national championship game," Fighting Irish center Mark Van Guilder said. "We realized that we just had to put the second and third period behind us and just move on."

Both teams had several chances to score in overtime before Ridderwall slapped in the game-winner from the left side.

"I just took a quick shot," Ridderwall said.

"I didn't see it," said Hogan.

Sauer, a Colorado Avalanche draft pick, also had a poor showing last year at the Pepsi Center, when he gave up seven goals on 26 shots during an 8-5 loss to North Dakota in the West Regional.

Just 5:42 into this game, Sauer surely was having flashbacks after giving up goals to Ridderwall and Van Guilder just 42 seconds apart.

"If we would have won, I probably wouldn't have been too hard on myself," said Sauer, who beat Notre Dame twice during the season. "But if it wouldn't have been for my performance we would be playing on Saturday."

He saved just six of the nine shots he faced Thursday night.

"He's been our bread and butter goalie all year," Berenson said. "I just didn't like the way the game was going and Billy looked like he was fighting the puck. ... We had to change the momentum in the game."

Assisting on Michigan's first goal was captain Kevin Porter, whose 33 goals and 30 assists this year have made him the favorite for the Hobey Baker award, hockey's equivalent to the Heisman Trophy, on Friday night.

The Irish, however, largely neutralized Porter, who never even took a shot.

This was the biggest game in the 115-game series between the rivals who first squared off in 1921, about the time the schools' football teams were building their storied rivalry, one which has been lopsided of late -- Michigan routed Notre Dame 38-0 last fall.

Ridderwald, the first Swede to play at Notre Dame, said few people back home know about the Fighting Irish when it comes to hockey.

"Uh, not really. I mean, a few people know about it," he said.

That could change Saturday night, not just overseas but here in football country, too.