Minneapolis, MN – With their backs to the wall, the Minnesota Golden Gophers won a gritty game Saturday to give themselves a chance.
An equally gutsy performance Sunday evening means the Gopher hockey season isn’t quite over yet.
Minnesota (16-14-7 overall) beat Notre Dame (15-15-7) 3-2 in a fierce struggle of a game Sunday. With both teams facing elimination, the Gophers showed adversity, scoring three goals in the 2nd period after going down 1-0 and then hanging on in the third for the win.
Minnesota struggled to put up much offense in either Friday or Saturday’s games, and credit to Notre Dame – coach Jeff Jackson is known for playing structured defensive hockey, and the Irish game plan was in full effect all weekend.
However, the Gophers were actually able to put shots on ND’s Cale Morris, and although the teams entered the first intermission tied 0-0, the relatively impressive shot output (6 shots in the first for MN against only 5 for ND) gave the Gophers some confidence.
Notre Dame applied the offensive pressure early in the second period and were rewarded with the first goal of the game, as Alex Steeves beat Jack LaFontaine at 5:25.
Minnesota responded, though, as Ben Meyers broke Morris’ shutout bid at 10:18 to tie the game, and then Sampo Ranta put the Gophers ahead for good at 11:06.
The back half of the second period was an interesting one: a Notre Dame player hit Tyler Nanne hard into the boards with about 5 minutes left in the period, and subsequently on the same play ND’s Pierce Crawford got called for hooking. The refs went back to look at the hit on Nanne and ruled it a 5 minute major, so the Gophers had two full minutes of 5×3, and then three more minutes of powerplay. Already leading 2-1, two goals would probably seal the game.
The Gophers were able to score with just seven seconds left on the two-man advantage, with Ben Meyers scoring to increase the lead to 3-1, but Minnesota couldn’t score another on the extended advantage, setting up a white-knuckle third period.
As was expected, Notre Dame got the only powerplay opportunities of the third, and they scored on their first chance at 10:36 of the period to cut the Gopher lead to one at 3-2.
Notre Dame drew another penalty less than three minutes after the goal for Too Many Men on the Gophers, but a gritty penalty kill headlined by a visibly limping Matt Staudacher in front of the Gopher net moved Minnesota closer to victory.
The Irish pulled their goalie with just about 1:30 left in the game, but Minnesota held firm behind the solid goalkeeping of Jack LaFontaine. The junior netminder was great this weekend, allowing only four goals on 82 Notre Dame shots throughout the three contests.
The 3-2 win moves the Gophers one step closer to the NCAA tournament, but in order to have any hope of making it there, they’ll need to go through Penn State. The Nittany Lions will host the Gophers for a winner-take-all contest Saturday at 6PM Central. Penn State is coming off two straight bye-weeks, so they may be rusty, but they definitely should be well rested. Minnesota is 2-12-1 against Penn State in their last 15 games, including an ugly 0-7-1 at Pegula Ice Arena in State College. PSU is a lock for the NCAA tournament, while Minnesota needs at least a win next weekend (if not winning the Big Ten tournament outright) to sneak into the big dance.
Gopher Multi-Point Getters – Meyers (2G), Reedy (2A)
Minnesota is 15-15-1 all time against Penn State. The Gophers went 13-3-0 against the Nittany Lions in their first 16 games, but are only 2-12-1 in their last 15. Minnesota has not won a game in State College since February 2017.
Three Stars as announced – 3. Reedy, 2. LaFontaine, 1. Meyers
POST GAME VIDEO
On ice celebration video after the 3-2 victory,
Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson with a few words followed by Bob Motzko, Ben Meyers and Jack LaFontaine.