MINNEAPOLIS – Sometimes when you’re a college hockey coach, it’s hard to put into words how you feel about your team’s performance.
Such was the case Friday night at 3M Arena at Mariucci, where the Minnesota Golden Gophers fell to the #16 Notre Dame Fighting Irish 3-2 after another overall poor effort. A visibly frustrated Bob Motzko addressed it after the game.
“That was not good,” the Gophers head coach said. “We’ve done this before. I wish I had the answer for it. How do you guard against playing very well and then just totally having your foot off the pedal?”
The Gophers came into this weekend’s series against Notre Dame (17-11-3, 10-9-2-2 Big Ten) flying high after sweeping then-#2 Ohio State on the road last week, and for the first 12 minutes of the game on Friday, that momentum carried over when they took an early 2-0 lead. But Minnesota (13-15-4, 10-10-3-0) couldn’t sustain the momentum from that start and missed their chance at their second three-game winning streak of the season. The loss also guarantees the Gophers will not record a home sweep in conference play for the season.
Colin Theisen had two goals for the Irish, including the game winner with 12 minutes remaining. It was the first time this season Notre Dame was able to overcome a two-goal deficit to win a game, and they leapfrogged Minnesota for second place in the conference standings.
Minnesota set the tone early in the game, drawing first blood on a Brannon McManus goal as he drove to the net. McManus lost the puck, but it deflected in off a Notre Dame stick. Nathan Burke later added to the lead, grabbing a rebound of a Sammy Walker shot and lofting a backhand shot over Morris’ left shoulder. Meanwhile, Notre Dame was kept in check for most of the period, but did put on pressure late.
The Irish continued forechecking well in the second period, and they tied the game with goals by Theisen and Cam Burke.
After Theisen’s eventual third-period winner, the Gophers finally showed some life offensively, but couldn’t muster enough for the equalizer, and their chances for home ice in the conference tournament took a hit. With just one more game in the conference remaining and three overall before the tournament, the margin of error is as small as its been all season long. If Minnesota can’t take care of business themselves, it becomes a sit-and-wait situation.
“We’re in a must-win situation, if we have any chance at home ice,” Motzko said. “We have to have a much better effort tomorrow.”
Cale Morris made 24 saves for Notre Dame, and Mat Robson had 28 for Minnesota.
The two teams will complete their weekend series at 4:30 CT on Saturday afternoon.
MINN goal at 4:09: Brannon McManus (12). Assisted by Tommy Novak (15) and Jack Sadek (12).
MINN goal at 12:00: Nathan Burke (6). Assisted by Sammy Walker (13) and Blake McLaughlin (14).
ND power-play goal at 2:47: Colin Theisen (9). Assisted by Tory Dello (10) and Cal Burke (15).
ND goal at 17:43: Cam Burke (3). Assisted by Pierce Crawford (1) and Jack Jenkins (8).
ND goal at 8:01: Theisen (10). Assisted by Cam Morrison (9) and Matt Hellickson (12).
Power plays: ND 1-3, MINN 0-3.
Shots on goal: ND 31, MINN 26.