When the first game of the series between Notre Dame and Michigan was all said and done, the Irish goaltenders had a combined 9.80 goals-against average versus the Wolverines. With a number like that hanging over him, Notre Dame senior goalie Morgan Cey knew it would take the performance of his career in game two to challenge the Wolverines.

The previous night, after being pulled midway through the second period, Cey was visibly frustrated at being yanked for the third time this season in games against Michigan as he sat on the south end of the Notre Dame bench.

“Obviously, I didn’t want to have my college career end the way it did (Friday) night,” Cey said. “I spent the day really thinking about what I had to do tonight to give us a chance (to win).”

Cey is no stranger to big games, having helped Notre Dame overcome a 1-0 deficit to twice advance to the CCHA Super 6. As a sophomore, Cey blanked Miami-Ohio twice in deciding games to send the Irish into the tournament. But Cey missed much of the 2004 playoff run with an injury that limited him to just 14 games on the season.

“He’s won every time (in the CCHA playoffs) and taken them to Joe Louis (Arena),” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “They didn’t have a good year, but Morgan Cey did. He gave them a chance. And he gave them a chance in his final game.”

From the time the puck dropped Saturday until just before Michigan senior Eric Werner deposited a loose puck into the net, it looked as if Cey was going to, once again, lead Notre Dame to a decisive third game.

“I’m happy with the way I came out and happy with the way the team came out,” Cey said. “I’m happy about everything except the one goal that I let in.”

Throughout the first 62 minutes of the contest, Cey stymied every chance the Wolverines could muster. In the second period, Michigan sophomore T.J. Hensick had a golden opportunity from the left circle that a sprawling Cey kicked up into the air. As the puck came down and bounced into his crease, the Irish netminder blindly searched for the puck until the whistle blew because the net behind him went off its pegs.

“Morgan made the big save when we needed it,” Notre Dame coach Dave Poulin said. “He was great, but tonight kind of sums up his career. He had a magnificent career, and he’s taken our goaltending expectations to a new level as a program.”

As the game moved on, Cey’s unrelenting play began to wear on the Michigan players, stopping everything that came his way — shots through traffic, wrap-arounds and one-timers. Poulin emphasized the need to keep Michigan’s momentum at bay, and, as Wolverine freshman Chad Kolarik slammed his stick onto the ice following another big save indicated the Irish were successful.

“He stood on his head tonight,” Michigan senior Milan Gajic said. “We knew he was going to come out hard, and he came out hard. He gave his team a chance to win, and that’s what all great goalies do. It’s just too bad it couldn’t have turned out better for him.”

After Werner’s goal, Cey sat in the locker room with his goalie pads still on, trying to come to the grips with the end of his career. His thoughts were with his teammates — most of which were in suits by then — who will go into the offseason with a 19-game winless streak hanging over them. The senior wants those returning players to carry Saturday’s game with them as they attempt to recover from a 5-27-6 campaign.

“I’m feeling really happy that we gave them everything they could handle tonight,” Cey said. “But it’s quite a feeling to know that you’ll never play another college game. It’s taking me a long time to take off (my pads). I hope the guys are headed in the right direction for next year. I hope we can take this game and know that we can play with the best next year.”

Despite the loss that ended his career and the Notre Dame season, Cey can take some solace in what his performance did for the ailing program. Poulin sees many similarities between this year’s series and the first-round series in 1998 between the same two teams. Notre Dame split the first two games with the eventual national champions and had a 2-0 lead in the second period of the third game before Michigan stormed back on the shoulders of Bill Muckalt’s two assists. Michigan took the game and the series with just six minutes left, but the Notre Dame players knew they could play with the best teams in the country — something Poulin said was the foundation for the next six years of success.

“We knew what it took to play at that level,” Poulin said. “We learned a lot from that series. That’s what I told (the players) after the game, this has to be the same sort of lesson of what it takes to be successful at this level.”

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