The Notre Dame Fighting Irish hockey team made their first home Hockey East game one to remember on Friday night as senior goaltender Steven Summerhays turned aside all 31 Merrimack shots he faced on the way to a 4-0 win in front of 4,572 at the Compton Family Ice Arena.
Summerhays, who leads Hockey East in shutouts and is tied for the national lead with three, got all the offense he needed when freshman Ali Thomas scored at 3:21 of the second period for his first collegiate goal. Junior Peter Schneider scored twice and sophomore Mario Lucia chipped in a power-play goal in the victory.
The shutout was the ninth of Summerhays' career and he added an assist on Lucia's power-play goal.
The Warriors out shot the Irish on the night, 31-30, with Sam Marotta making 26 saves in the Merrimack goal.
The win improved the #3/#4 Irish to 8-3-0 on the season and 2-1-0 in Hockey East play. Merrimack College falls to 3-6-0 on the year and 0-3-0 in conference play.
"You have to give Merrimack credit. They slowed the game down. They played a great defensive game," said Notre Dame head coach Jeff Jackson.
"The have great defensive sticks and they transition really well off of it. It was a change of pace from last week (versus Minnesota). It took us an entire period to get used to the change of pace."
Merrimack dominated the first period, out shooting Notre Dame by an 11-3 margin but could not dent Summerhays between the pipes for the Irish as he kicked out all 11 of them.
"They tried to throw everything at the net," said Summerhays.
"They probably watched the game tape from Saturday's Minnesota game and saw that some bad angle goals went in. I was aware that they would probably do that. I thought we limited them to very few quality chances though."
In the second, Notre Dame's offense came to life and got a jump start from an unlikely source as Thomas, playing in just his second collegiate game, scored what would become the game winner just over three minutes into the middle stanza.
The freshman from New York, N.Y., took advantage of a great forechecking effort by right wing Garrett Peterson who forced a turnover behind the Merrimack goal. Thomas scooped up the loose puck on the left side of the goal and skated around to the right side, tucking it inside the right post before Marotta could get over to stop him to make it 1-0.
"That was a nice effort on that goal," said Jackson.
"That was a big goal for us and a big goal for Ali. He gives us a physical presence out there. He's a big kid who skates well. He's making progress."
The score stayed 1-0 until the 15:05 mark when Schneider scored his second of the year off a face off in the left circle.
Center David Gerths won the draw back towards the top of the circle where Schneider moved from the left edge to pick it up. From there he snapped off a quick wrist shot that beat Marotta low to his glove side and inside the right post for the 2-0 lead.
"Dave and I talked about using the wing around play there. He was confident he could win the face off," said Schneider.
"He won it right to my stick as I was coming around. The D came out at me and I shot it through his legs off the far post and in. Dave (Gerths) did a great job winning the face off and putting the puck right on my stick which was the most important thing."
The Irish led by Summerhays nursed the two-goal lead until late in the third period when Notre Dame took advantage of a tripping penalty to Justin Mansfield as Lucia scored off a feed from defenseman Shayne Taker at 17:29 to make it 3-0. The goal was Lucia's fifth of the season.
After Merrimack cleared the puck into the Irish zone, Summerhays stopped it and fired it up the right boards to Taker in the neutral zone. The senior blue liner carried it deep into the Warriors zone and carried behind their goal before finding Lucia in the slot. The left wing wasted no time in firing a shot past Marotta's stick hand for his fifth of the season.
"Mario's got a goal scorer's mindset. He's not afraid to shoot the puck," said Jackson.
"He usually thinks shot first and that isn't selfish, that's smart. The puck always seems to follow good players around."
Merrimack pulled its goaltender in favor of a sixth attacker with a little over two minutes left in the game. The Irish stopped a Warrior rush at the blue Notre Dame blue line with Jeff Costello taking a pass from Kevin Lind and feeding it to Schneider in the neutral zone. The speedy right wing buried a shot off the cross bar and into the empty net at 18:07 for the 4-0 final score.
The two teams will close out the series on Saturday night in a 7:05 p.m. game at the Compton Family Ice Arena.
* With his assist on Mario Lucia's power-play goal, Summerhays now has four career assists and is tied for the school record with Bob McNamara who had four in his Notre Dame playing career.
* Notre Dame's win over Merrimack was the first ever for the Irish at home. The Warriors won a pair of games during the 1988-89 season at the Joyce Center in their only other visit to South Bend.
* The Irish were missing three regulars from the lineup as Vince Hinostroza, Mike Voran and Eric Johnson were all out of Friday's game due to injuries.