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Gopher Hockey Notebook: Minnesota focuses on stopping Notre Dame after a week off, Johnson update, TV notes

Minnesota faces a Notre Dame offense with 9 players that have 5 points, including senior forward (and youngest son of the Gopher head coach) Mario Lucia.

Minnesota Athletics

After a week off, Minnesota (2-3-0, 0-0-0-0 Big Ten) has a road date this weekend.

"It was kind of nice to have Halloween off and go home and visit the family, but we got a tough team coming up in Notre Dame. They're always good," junior defenseman Michael Brodzinski said. "We had a nice week off to prepare for them."

Friday's game against the Fighting Irish (3-1-2, 2-0-0 Hockey East) at Compton Family Ice Arena in South Bend begins at 6:30 pm. CT. Saturday's series finale begins at 5:30 p.m. CT.

Practices during the bye week focused upon improving puck movement and playing more efficiently coming out of the neutral zone. For head coach Don Lucia, he would have preferred to keep the momentum and help build his young players and help find consistency.

"I'd rather not have two open weekends in the first half of the year. It's kind of disjointing. We play five, sit out a week, play four, sit out a week, and then play six and it is Christmas Break," he said.

Week off or not, the Gophers do have to focus upon stopping Notre Dame, which is 2-0-2 in its last 4 games, and its offense. The Fighting Irish are ninth in the country with 4.33 goals per game and put up 8 goals against UConn on Sunday. Before that the team had scored 7 against Penn State, which gives a good challenge for Minnesota in the early part of the year against a team whose makeup (with 15 underclassmen) could be a blueprint for them.

ND's scoring has been by committee, utilizing its depth with all four lines. Nine players have at least five points. Three are averaging more than a point per game.

One of those is Lucia's son Mario, or as he becomes to the Minnesota coach during this week, #22.

The younger Lucia is a senior forward who has 7 points (2G-5A) in 6 games. He is also an alternate captain and 2011 Minnesota Wild draft pick.

The elder Lucia, who is also a Notre Dame alum playing for the Irish between 1977 and 1981, tries to treat him like any other player on the ice (although maybe those guys have names).

That said, the week off did help give Lucia some scouting/father time by watching both Notre Dame games. Minnesota practiced on Friday. He then went out to Hartford and Brooklyn to see the Fighting Irish and Mario.

"It'll be a good challenge. These have been good games the past few years," said Lucia about Notre Dame, who is 2-4 against Minnesota since January 2012. "They play the game the right way. Playing these games have made our team better and it'll be a good measuring stick for us because they are off to a good start with a 3-1-2 record. "

Steve Johnson practices Wednesday

Two weeks after suffering a lower body injury in practice, sophomore defenseman Steve Johnson was back on the ice Wednesday. He will miss this weekend's games, however, Lucia believes he'll have the no-contact jersey off in practice next week and be ready for Minnesota State on November 13th.

"He actually looked pretty good surprisingly," said Lucia. "I think there's a good chance he'll be ready to go next weekend, which is good news for us."

Johnson's original timeline was 2-4 weeks so returning for would be right in the middle of that estimate. Freshman defenseman Jack Sadek has gotten playing time in his place, which has also led to Brodzinski and getting heavy (~25) minutes on the ice as the freshman gets adjusted from playing right out of high school.

The extra playing time is a trade-off Brodzinski will take.

"It's huge. I know me and Bisch have been playing a lot and it's just nice to have the team on my back so to say," he said

A couple other players suffered minor injuries during the off week and missed time in practice. They are all back on the ice and will not miss the Notre Dame series.

TV Note:

Friday's game is being syndicated by American Sports Net and where the game ends up in the Twin Cities is currently unknown. ASN syndicates by affiliate. There are others in smaller markets and on Dish Network (412-28). This will be updated when that info becomes available. (11/5 UPDATE: Here's a list of Twin Cities and outstate Minnesota affiliates via Giopher Sports)

Former CCHA commisioner Fred Pletsch and Gopher great Pat Micheletti will call the game for ASN. If you do get to watch, Notre Dame will be wearing green jerseys as part of a university-wide initiative.

Saturday's game is on NBCSN with Steve Schlanger getting away from his TDF duties for some play-by-play and Anson Carter with analysis.

Recruit Notes:

-The three Minnesota commits on the US U-17 team - Scott Reedy (Prior Lake, MN), Josh Maniscalo (Perkiomenville, PA)  and Nate Knoepke (Farmington, MN) - are all in British Columbia this week for the World U-17 Hockey Challenge. Reedy leads the US team (and second overall) with 7 points (4G-3A) in 3 games as the Americans are a perfect 3-0 in group play.

The US next plays Sweden tomorrow (November 5) at 3:30 p.m. CT. You can stream the game here.

-Final Elite League scoring totals:

Casey Mittelstadt (Eden Prairie, MN) led all scorers by a wide margin with 41 points (19G-23A) in only 19 games. Blake McLaughlin (Grand Rapids, MN) had 16 points (3G-13A) in 21 games. Sammy Walker (Edina, MN) scored 10 goals and 14 points in 21 games. Jaxon Nelson (Luverne, MN) had five goals in 13 games.

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Nathan Wells is a college hockey columnist for SB Nation mostly covering both the University of Minnesota and Big Ten. You can also follow him on Twitter --