MIINEAPOLIS – As has been the case for most of the season, fans have seen both sides of the Minnesota Golden Gophers during weekend series.
One night, they tend to play underachieving, then during the other you see how dangerous they can be. It makes you think, “This team is hard to read.”
Such was the case again this weekend, as Minnesota put Friday night’s miserable performance behind them with a more solid effort on both ends of the rink on Saturday night, defeating the #16 Notre Dame Fighting Irish 2-1 at 3M Arena to split their Big Ten series and end their conference slate on a high note.
“I told you we’d be good again, and one night later, we were,” Gophers head coach Bob Motzko said. “We needed a bounce-back night, and we got it.”
Alex Steeves scored for Notre Dame (17-12-3 overall, 10-10-2-2 Big Ten), but the Irish were kept in check offensively for most of the night and they ended up dropping three of four meetings with Minnesota (14-15-4, 11-10-3) for the season. In all three all of those defeats, they managed to score just one goal.
“We’ve had this issue all season long; we can’t find a way to score goals on a consistent basis,” Notre Dame head coach Jeff Jackson said. “Last night we had a little bit of secondary scoring; tonight we didn’t. It’s the nature of the Big Ten right now. At least we got a couple games yet.”
For the second straight night, Minnesota was the better team early, disrupting Notre Dame’s passing and forecheck while playing well offensively themselves, and eventually Tyler Nanne broke through first with his 4th goal of the season as Rem Pitlick found him in the low slot from behind the net on a beautiful play.
But once again, the Gophers looked flat after jumping out to their lead. A few minutes later, their top line failed to clear the puck from their zone, and Tyler Sheehy was forced to take an interference penalty to get them off the ice. While they was able to get the ensuing kill, Notre Dame looked more aggressive and outshot Minnesota 7-1 over the final seven and a half minutes.
Early in the second period, the Irish finally got through and tied it thanks to a good forecheck by their second line, which combined for the scoring on the play as Steeves got the goal. But it didn’t take long for the Gophers to reply. A few shifts later, their top line held the zone for over a minute, tiring out the Notre Dame skaters and Scott Reedy finished by scoring from the low slot, putting Minnesota ahead for good en route to their 6th series split of the conference season. Motzko has been seeing it all season long, and he wasn’t surprised at all by his team rebounding from Friday.
“They’ve been there before,” Motzko said. “They are a good group of young men. It gets hard, but they will bounce back.”
The conference portion of their schedule may be done, but don’t expect the Gophers to sit back and scoreboard watch. Their last nonconference series looms next weekend, and it comes at home against a very good Arizona State team on the verge of their first NCAA Tournament. It remains to be seen if Minnesota can keep momentum going into their series against the Sun Devils, but the Gophers can at least savor winning three of their final four conference games coming in.
“It is what it is,” Motzko said. “Let’s get ready for [Arizona State]. Let’s finish our regular season and our nonconference record on a high note. Whatever happens in the playoffs, they’ll be ready for.”
On the other side, Jackson and the Irish just want to get back to playing good hockey so they can get on a roll going into the Big Ten Tournament.
“At this point, you’re gonna have to play in the first round regardless,” Jackson said. “Every weekend is a split in the Big Ten for the most part. It’s probably gonna be like that in the playoffs too. Could be interesting.”
Cale Morris had 15 saves for the Irish, and Mat Robson made 26 for the Gophers.
Notre Dame finishes conference play at home next weekend against Penn State as the defending national runner-up and conference champions look to stay at home for the first round of the tournament.
MINN goal at 8:53: Tyler Nanne (4). Assisted by Rem Pitlick (21) and Brent Gates (14).
ND goal at 4:50: Alex Steeves (7). Assisted by Graham Slaggert (5) and Jake Pivonka (8).
MINN goal at 9:28: Scott Reedy (6). Assisted by Garrett Wait (2) and Ryan Zuhlsdorf (5).
Power plays: ND 0-1.
Shots on goal: ND 27, MINN 17.