MINNEAPOLIS – For Minnesota head coach Bob Motzko and his team, the home conference schedule couldn’t have started off any better.
Three different players scored goals, and Justen Close made 21 saves to earn a shutout as the #3 Minnesota Golden Gophers blanked the #12 Notre Dame Fighting Irish 3-0 on Saturday night at 3M Arena at Mariucci, sweeping the Big Ten series and jumping to a 3-1 start in conference play.
It was all Gophers on both ends of the ice as Minnesota put 31 shots on goal and didn’t allow Notre Dame any quality chances. A complete game both nights this weekend, in other words.
“We knew it was gonna be a battle,” Motzko said. “You knew they were gonna have a push. I thought our defensemen did a terrific job tonight.”
For the third straight weekend, it was mostly a struggle for the Notre Dame offense. In their last six games, they’ve scored just nine goals, and five of those came in a 5-0 victory over Michigan State on October 28. They scored just once all weekend against the Gophers, and on Saturday night they had trouble in the neutral and offensive zones with passing and getting off quality shots. By the time they killed off a five-minute major penalty near the end of the second period, they trailed the Gophers 2-0 and had just seven shots on goal for the game.
“Any time you play against great players, it’s always a challenge,” said Notre Dame head coach Jeff Jackson. “You have to possess the puck and minimize the time you have to defend. We just need to get better at that.”
The first period was mostly quiet with Minnesota getting most of the limited open looks. But the tough Notre Dame defense snuffed them out, and Ryan Bischel, who was pounded on Friday with 45 shots faced, kept the Gophers off the scoreboard in the initial 20 minutes for the second straight night. He finished Saturday with 28 saves.
“He’s a good goaltender,” Jackson said. “We’re only gonna go as far as he takes us, so we just gotta get on track offensively.”
Jaxon Nelson got things started in the second period for Minnesota, scoring on a backhand shot. A major and a game misconduct were issued to Irish forward Jesse Lansdell, who hit Brock Faber, following a review after the Nelson goal, then the Gophers added to their lead on the ensuing major when a Jimmy Snuggerud shot was deflected to the crease right in front of Matthew Knies, who knocked it into a wide-open net.
Notre Dame didn’t find any offensive rhythm until under two minutes left in regulation when they finally started applying pressure, but they couldn’t get anything past Close and Logan Cooley capped the weekend’s scoring with an empty-net goal with 3.1 seconds left.
Overall, it was a very good series for Minnesota; a dominant sweep over a ranked conference foe. Is there a lesson to be learned from all this?
“A great growing game for our group. I like to have lessons like that when you win,” Motzko said.
Jackson believes there’s something to be learned too.
“We played better, but obviously you gotta score to win,” he said.
Minnesota will host Penn State in a two-game series next weekend, while Notre Dame heads home to South Bend to host Michigan.
MINN goal at 10:15: Jaxon Nelson (2). Assisted by Bryce Brodzinski (2) and Mason Nevers (3).
MINN power-play goal at Matthew Knies (7). Assisted by Jimmy Snuggerud (4) and Ryan Johnson (6).
MINN empty-net goal at 19:57: Logan Cooley (3). Assisted by Ryan Johnson (6).
Power plays: ND 0-2, MINN 1-4.
Shots on goal: ND 21, MINN 31.