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."
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."
"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.
Follow Nate on Twitter @gopherstate.