The no. 4/5 Notre Dame Fighting Irish are cruising so far this season, winners of all four games they’ve played. Their quest for another Big Ten championship will begin this weekend, as they travel to Minneapolis to take on the Minnesota Golden Gophers.
Where, When, and How to Watch
Where: 3M Arena at Mariucci, Minneapolis, MN
When: Friday, Nov. 1, 8:30 PM ET, Saturday, Nov. 2, 5:00 PM ET
How to Watch: Big Ten Network (Game 1), Fox Sports North (Game 2)
The Gophers come into this weekend losers of two straight against their intrastate rival and defending back to back national champion Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs. The losses caused the Gophers to fall to 3-3 and drop from the USCHO rankings, where they, along with the Michigan Wolverines and Michigan State Spartans, are now they only Big Ten teams not ranked. Of the four Big Ten teams in the top 20, the Irish have the highest ranking at fifth, and are one of only two teams in the nation to have played and not lost yet.
Idle @DU_Hockey stays the top-ranked team this week with 46 first-place votes in the https://t.co/2QgdyNoa0Z Division I Men’s Poll.@MavHockey remains No. 2, garnering the other four first-place votes in this week’s rankings. pic.twitter.com/MLXlwpXL3C— USCHO.com (@USCHO) October 28, 2019
The pattern of so many Big Ten teams being ranked speaks volumes to how competitive the conference will be. While it’s great that the Irish started the season off by sweeping the Air Force Falcons and Lake Super State Lakers, that won’t mean much if they stumble out of the gate against a Minnesota team that took three of four from them in regular season play last year.
While the Gophers haven’t started this season as well as their fans may have hoped, one bright spot has been the play of sophomore forward Sammy Walker. The 2017 draft pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning is off to a hot start, registered four goals and three assists through six games, including a goal and an assist in the only two times the Gophers were able to find the back of the net against the Bulldogs last weekend. Outside of Walker, the Minnesota offense has shown little consistency, and now has to look forward to Cale Morris, who returned in the final game of last weekend’s series against the Lakers.
Notre Dame’s senior forwards are having no trouble putting the puck in the net so far this season. Mike O’Leary and Cal Burke are leading the way, both scoring four goals in as many games. Both have seven assists thus far as well, which makes them tied for second in the nation in points. They’ll look to continue that success against the Gophers’ tandem of Jack LaFontaine and Jared Moe. While Moe has outplayed LaFontaine by a sizable margin, second year coach Bob Motzko appears to be set on giving an equal timeshare to both netminders.
While stopping 29 of 33 shots in last Saturday’s victory over Lake State might not be the Cale Morris we’ve come to know, it’s still encouraging to see him returning when it wasn’t a for sure thing that he’d be ready until conference play. Luckily, the offense has been clicking on all cylinders, so there has been room for error. I expect that to continue this week against a Minnesota team that doesn’t look as dominant as we’re used to seeing. I expect the winning streak to continue, as the Golden Domers sweep the Golden Gophers.