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Gophers Hockey: Minnesota defeats Notre Dame 4-1 Tuesday

Despite being without leading scorer Erik Haula, top-ranked Minnesota scored 4 goals on Notre Dame and defeated the Fighting Irish 4-1. The Gophers finish non-conference play a perfect 8-0-0.

University of Minnesota junior Nate Condno
University of Minnesota junior Nate Condno
Minnesota Athletics

The biggest question for Minnesota (14-3-3, 6-3-3 WCHA) entering tonight's rare Tuesday night game with second-ranked Notre Dame (14-5-0, 10-1-0 CCHA) was how the top-ranked Golden Gophers would fare without their leading scorer Erik Haula (Minnesota Wild). After all, Haula (9G-17A) is an integral part of the team's chemistry centering the second line.

That lasted all of 81 seconds.

With junior Nate Condon (Colorado Avalanche) shifting over from wing in place of the injured Haula, Minnesota barely missed a beat in defeating the Fighting Irish 4-1 in front of 10,021 fans at Mariucci Arena. Condon wasted no time on his first shift, scoring on a shot from the top of the circle 1:21 into the game and throwing a check that knocked his head coach's son down.

"I didn't know it was him," a bemused Condon said after being informed he was one of three Minnesota players hit Mario Lucia on the freshman's initial shift. "But now that I do it's kind of funny."

Sam Warning, Christian Isackson (Buffalo Sabres) and Zach Budish (Nashville Predators) also scored for the Gophers, who got 22 saves from freshman goaltender Adam Wilcox (Tampa Bay Lightning).

Notre Dame had not played a game since December 15 and it showed early on. The Gophers were able to have a 6-3 shot advantage in the game's opening 8 minutes while the CCHA leaders were a step or two behind and trying to catch up against a team that defeated Boston College 8-1 on December 30th.

"We started off a little slow and it looked like we had been off for a month," Fighting Irish head coach Jeff Jackson. "I thought the first period was the difference in the game."

Warning added to Minnesota's total 7:29 into the game following a penalty to the Fighting Irish's Peter Schneider. The sophomore winger kept whacking at a rebound and his third effort went past Notre Dame goaltender Steven Summerhays. Just like that, the Golden Gophers were up 2-0 7:29 into the game with two goals by players on a revamped second line that had only 5 or 6 practices together.

"I was not really worried about that," said Minnesota head coach Don Lucia about replacing Haula. "(Condon) skates so well, he's been a center almost his whole life until he got here because we needed him at left wing. I figured it would be an easy transition in Erik's absence."

Notre Dame was able to cut the Gophers' lead in half 7 minutes later when junior Jeff Costello scored his sixth goal of the season on a tap-in. That goal reinvigorated the Fighting Irish, who spent the second half of the first period putting Minnesota on their heels. However, they were only able to muster shots from the point and bad angles; 16 of Notre Dame's shot chances in the first period were from above the face-off dots.

Christian Isackson scored a highlight-reel goal midway through the second period to bring the Gophers back to a two-goal margin. Following a forecheck by A.J. Michaelson that caused a turnover in the Notre Dame zone, the freshman found Isackson and he did the rest.

"(Isackson's) a good goal scorer and he found the back of the net so it's a good move," said Minnesota captain Zach Budish.

Budish completed the scoring for his line with an empty-netter for his sixth goal of the season but not before Wilcox had to make a breakaway save on Notre Dame's Bryan Rust in the beginning of the third period.

"We had to play a patient game," Lucia said. "I don't think we gave up a whole lot defensively tonight and by having that early lead, it allowed us to play more patient."

They were patient and by getting goals from all three members of an Erik Haula-less second line, getting off to a fast start and creating turnovers, they were able to defeat the #2 team in the country and finish a perfect 8-0-0 in non-conference play. The last factor was a difference Tuesday in the eyes of Notre Dame's head coach.

"We gave up a couple goals that we probably shouldn't have as a result of turnovers and I look at that as a result of being rusty," said Jackson. "Especially in our own zone, we have turned pucks over in our own zone very much.

"We started off the second half playing a great team and I'm hoping that propels us in the CCHA."

Minnesota, sixth in the WCHA with (the Gophers have 2 games in hand on everyone above them besides North Dakota), next plays Alaska-Anchorage at home Friday and Saturday. Friday's game will be broadcast on BTN and Saturday's by Fox Sports North.

Notre Dame, tied for first in the CCHA with Miami, travels to Michigan State Friday and Saturday.

For more University of Minnesota coverage, check out The Daily Gopher. You can also follow SB Nation College Hockey on Twitter @sbncollegepuck.

Follow Nate on Twitter @gopherstate.