The second and third place teams in the Big Ten opened up their weekend series as the Notre Dame Fighting Irish welcome the no. 5 Minnesota Golden Gophers to Compton Family Ice Arena on Friday night. For the first time all season, the Irish entered the contest riding a three game winning streak. The Gophers, who the Irish swept last month, were out-scored 12-2 while being swept by the Wisconsin Badgers last weekend.
Gophers goaltender and captain Jack LaFontaine was tested early when a Landon Slaggert shot hit the post in the opening minute. Notre Dame continued to get pucks deep and forecheck hard in the first, but the 2016 draft pick of the Carolina Hurricanes stopped all eight shots he saw.
The Irish also had the first power-play of the evening when Ben Meyers was called for a hold on Nick Leivermann, but the power-play would quickly become a 4-on4. Jake Pivonka was sent to the box after a turnover forced him to stop the breakaway and take a holding call. Just before Minnesota’s power-play expired, former Big Ten freshman of the year Sammy Walker scored far-side under the blocker of Dylan St. Cyr to make it 1-0.
Minnesota had plenty of good second and third chances in the middle frame, but St. Cyr, making his seventh consecutive start, played incredibly between the pipes. Despite his efforts, he couldn’t get any help from the Irish power-play, which looked great last weekend after struggling for most of the season.
Notre Dame had an opportunity to even the contest when Ryan Johnson was called for tripping. While they got decent pressure in the Minnesota zone, they couldn’t get more than one shot on goal. In the final minute, a Jaxon Nelson elbow to the head of Solag Bakich led to a five-minute major and game misconduct, as Minnesota went to the locker room up 1-0, but knowing they had over four minutes on the penalty kill ahead of them.
The Minnesota bench made their frustrations known after the call on Nelson, which only intensified when Bakich returned to the ice in the third. Tempers continued to rise when Matt Steeves was called for boarding after a hit to Minnesota’s Mike Koster. The penalty was reviewed for contact to the head, but it was determined to only be a minor penalty, which the Irish would kill off.
Minnesota got an insurance goal after Spencer Stastney and Alex Steeves collided, which left Brannon McManus alone at the top to fire a shot that Sampo Ranta got a piece of. Blake McLaughlin tacked on an empty netter, as the Irish fell to 3-9-1 at home.
Minnesota: Sammy Walker (PPG) at 11:10 in the 1st, assisted by Jackson LaCombe and Jack LaFontaine
Minnesota: Sampo Ranta at 15:35 in the 3rd, assisted by Brannon McManus and Ben Brinkman
Minnesota: Blake McLaughlin (ENG) at 19:59 in the 3rd
Minnesota: Ben Meyers, 2 for holding at 08:17 in the 1st
Notre Dame: Jake Pivonka, 2 for holding at 09:33 in the 1st
Minnesota: Ryan Johnson, 2 for tripping at 15:49 in the 2nd
Minnesota: Jaxon Nelson, 5 for contact to the head at 19:15 in the 2nd
Minnesota: Jaxon Nelson, game misconduct at 19:15 in the 2nd
Notre Dame: Matt Steeves, 2 for boarding at 07:00 in the 3rd
Notre Dame: Dylan St. Cyr (L) saved 30 of 32 shots
Minnesota: Jack LaFontaine (W) saved 24 of 24 shots
The Golden Domers and Golden Gophers will close out their regular season series on Saturday at 5:30 P.M. The game can be streamed on NBCSports.com.