In the Land of the 10,000 Lakes on Friday evening, it was the first of four meetings pitting the Notre Dame Fighting Irish against the no. 1 Minnesota Golden Gophers. Ten of the prior eleven meetings between the schools had been decided by one goal. Last year, Notre Dame’s season ended at the hands of Minnesota in the Big Ten Tournament.
An elbowing call on Pierce Crawford put Notre Dame on their much-maligned penalty kill for the first time, but the Irish did a great job of limiting scoring chances and keeping the puck in the Minnesota zone, as they had done for most of the period.
Coming into the contest, the Gophers led the nation in first period goal differential, outscoring teams 14-4. Despite being largely outplayed, they got in front first when Anaheim Ducks prospect Jackson LaCombe carried the puck off the side wall, circled across ice and found a lane to get it past Ryan Bischel. A few minutes later, the Irish tied it back up when Alex Steeves found a loose puck after a faceoff to beat Jack LaFontaine glove-side.
It didn’t take long for the Gophers to respond by getting a goal of their own after a draw. A faceoff win by Jaxon Nelson allowed him to kick it across to Sampo Ranta who beat Bischel short side to give the Gophers a 2-1 lead just under two minutes into the second.
In the second, the special teams struggles that have haunted the Irish all season were no more. Matt Hellickson was called for holding shortly after Ranta’s goal, but the penalty was killed off without allowing a shot on goal. A couple minutes later, on the power-play, Landon Slaggert deflected a pass from Nick Leivermann to even it at 2-2.
The exceptional play of the Irish defense continued into the third period. At one point, they held the Gophers. averaging 31.4 shots per game, to over 14 minutes without a puck on net. Play was kept in the Minnesota zone for most of the period.
With less than five minutes to go, a puck battle was won by Landon Slaggert and sprung out to older brother Graham Slaggert who beat LaFontaine from close range to give Notre Dame their first lead of the night. The extra skater was brought on with a minute and a half left, but the defense continued to stand tall and hand the Gophers their first home loss of the season.
Minnesota: Jackson LaCombe at 16:50 of the 1st, assisted by Mike Koster and Nathan Burke
Notre Dame: Alex Steeves at 19:28 of the 1st, assisted by Graham Slaggert
Minnesota: Sampo Ranta at 1:48 of the 2nd, assisted by Jaxon Nelson
Notre Dame: Landon Slaggert at 6:23 of the 2nd, assisted by Graham Slaggert and Nick Leivermann
Notre Dame: Graham Slaggert at 15:17 of the 3rd, assisted by Landon Slaggert
Notre Dame: Pierce Crawford, 2 for elbowing at 7:26 in the 1st
Notre Dame: Matt Hellickson, 2 for holding at 3:02 in the 2nd
Minnesota: Jaxon Nelson, 2 for holding at 5:13 in the 2nd
Notre Dame: Ryan Bischel (W) saved 17 of 19 shots
Minnesota: Jack LaFontaine (L) saved 24 of 27 shots
Notre Dame takes on Minnesota in the series finale on Saturday at 6:00 PM ET on Fox Sports North and streaming on BTN+.