TOLEDO, Ohio - Once again Irish hockey appeared to wilt under the weight of expectations after entering the NCAA tournament with considerable momentum.
Last week the Irish captured a third conference tournament title and top seed in the national tournament under head coach Jeff Jackson, now in his eighth season guiding the program. And for the third time under those circumstances the season ended sooner than expected.
Notre Dame (25-13-3) is now 1-3 all time as a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament after a 5-1 loss to No. 4 seed St. Cloud State at the Huntington Center in the Midwest Regional semifinal.
"We're disappointed and St. Cloud played a great game," Jackson said. "We'll leave it at that."
Positive vibes escaped the Irish barely halfway through the first period.
Ben Hanowski gave St. Cloud State (24-15-1) a 1-0 lead at 11:32 with his 17th goal of the season on assists from Andrew Prochno and Kalle Kossila.
Notre Dame nearly answered in short order when Anders Lee capped off a rush with what looked like a goal as the puck squirted past St. Cloud goalie Ryan Faragher. But officials reviewed the play and determined Lee kicked the puck in with his skate, resulting in no goal.
Any potential momentum vanished once the official waved it off, keeping St. Cloud up 1-0 heading into the first intermission.
"The play happened so fast," Lee said. "You're trying to get it back to your stick, it just went to the goalie instead. It was clearly a kicking motion. I just tried to get it back to my stick ... That's just a reaction play at that high speed, at that fast of a game. It's unfortunate."
Before the second period ended Notre Dame would find itself in an almost insurmountable hole.
St. Cloud scored three times on Steven Summerhays in the period - Joey Benik at 9:28, Cory Thorson at 13:35 and Jonny Brodzinski at 14:53 - while the Irish managed just three shots on goal. The Irish trailed 4-0 at the break.
"It started with a bad penalty," Summerhays said. "We took a stick penalty then couldn't kill it off. Then they just got momentum from that. There was kind of a mistake on the breakout, walked out, and a soft goal that I let in. Then they came down on another odd-man rush and capitalized.
"It's happened a lot to us this year where a stretch of a couple minutes has really been a dagger. Unfortunately, it happened to night."
Jackson pulled Summerhays in favor of Mike Johnson, a senior, to begin the third period.
Mike Voran scored his fifth goal of the season, this one short handed, 7:44 later to give Notre Dame its only goal. Benik scored his second of the game not even four minutes later to make it 5-1.
St. Cloud State will face Miami on Sunday in the regional final for a trip to the Frozen Four.
"I thought we practiced well this week," Johnson said. "It's a tough way to go out but I thought we were well prepared. I think penalties killed us tonight and we just didn't execute our system to the way we needed to get a win."