DETROIT - One last time the Notre Dame hockey team will return home from Joe Louis Arena champions, hoisting the Mason Cup as reward.
Capping off its final season in existence, the Central Collegiate Hockey Association crowned Notre Dame winners of the league tournament for the third time in seven years after its 3-1 victory over Michigan on Sunday afternoon.
Head coach Jeff Jackson also guided the Irish (25-12-3) to tournament titles in 2007 and 2009.
"It was a great weekend for us," Jackson said. "The team did everything that we asked of them and beyond. I think the guys deserve all the credit for paying the price, laying it on the line, doing what they had to do to be successful against two good teams. We're just proud to be able to raise another banner at the Compton center. I'm happy for these guys."
Michigan (18-19-3) opened the scoring with one minute left in the first period when it should have been killing off a power play. Derek DeBlois finished off an odd-man rush for his 11th goal of the season, flipping the puck into a wide open net behind a sprawling Steven Summerhays.
But overall the Wolverines mustered few chances against Summerhays in the first period. Notre Dame trailed 1-0 at the first intermission but led in shots 18-6. Summerhays would finish the game with just 20 saves.
"We controlled the puck a lot," said center Anders Lee. "We picked up the puck in the neutral zone, we had control, were the ones that were dictating the play. When we're able to do that it takes away from them to have opportunities with odd-man rushes and so forth. For us to have that ability and for us to play that way was, obviously, huge."
Generating so many scoring chances helped the Irish as the game wore on.
Lee scored his 20th goal of the season at 10:34 of the second period, beating goalie Steve Racine to the five hole, and tying the game 1-1. Jeff Costello and Stephen Johns picked up the assists. Racine made 30 saves total.
Notre Dame wasted little time breaking the tie after the second intermission. Austin Wuthrich scored his fifth goal of the season 31 seconds into the third period.
Wuthrich scooped up a puck initially fumbled by Mario Lucia and fired a wrist shot over Racine's blocker. T.J. Tynan picked up the other assist.
"T.J. Tynan got the puck just inside the blue line on a turnover and passed it down to Lucia," Wuthrich said. "It hit off Lucia's skate and he deflected it to me. I had a wide open net and just put it in."
Costello put the game away with an empty net goal at 18:53, catching Michigan as it tried to pull Racine in favor of an extra attacker. Summerhays, who made 36 saves combined in the wins over Michigan and Ohio State, then withstood the final Wolverines push.
Now the Irish await their seeding and destination in the NCAA tournament, scheduled to be announced at 9 p.m. tonight on ESPNU.
"There is probably a number of teams that could be in the NCAA tournament that are just as good as the teams that are there," Jackson said. "I think the same thing applies with the seeding. I think there's a lot of teams that could be No. 1 seeds, so I'm not concerned about it right now. All we have to do is enjoy this for 24 hours then move forward to wherever we may go."