Fighting Irish Stifle Gopher Offense En Route to Mariucci Sweep
Minneapolis, MN – For the first time all season, the Gophers lost two games in a row last weekend.
Notre Dame (5-4-1-1-0-1 Big Ten, 7-6-1 Overall) came into Mariucci Arena and swept Minnesota (9-3-0, 11-3-0), handing the Gophers their first sweep of the season, and first sweep since losing at home to North Dakota in November of 2019.
Notre Dame’s suffocating defensive structure (which, incidentally, other teams don’t seem to struggle with) gave Minnesota fits all weekend. The Gophers played five poor periods of hockey, and Notre Dame took the offense to Minnesota, looking like the better team all weekend.
Minnesota actually had the lead in Friday’s game, as Jackson LaCombe scored late in the first period. Notre Dame’s Alex Steeves scored in the last minute of the first to tie it at 1-1. The Gophers’ leading scorer Sampo Ranta scored at 1:48 of the second period to give Minnesota another lead, but US World Junior gold medalist Landon Slaggert scored on the power play at 6:23 to tie it 2-2.
Notre Dame was the better team in the third period, and Graham Slaggert finally broke through against Minnesota’s Jack LaFontaine with just under five minutes left to give the Irish their first lead of the night, a lead they’d hold on to with the Gophers only able to muster four shots on goal in the final frame.
Saturday’s matchup was more of the same, with Notre Dame locking down the neutral zone and Minnesota having no new ideas about how to break the press. This time, the Irish took an early lead at 1:54 of the first period and never looked back. Max Ellis scored in the middle of the second to give Notre Dame a 2-0 lead. The Gophers finally played a good period in the third, but it was too little, too late, as they only were able to muster one goal from Jaxon Nelson at 17:36 of the third.
Jack LaFontaine picked up the loss both Friday and Saturday, dropping to 10-3-0 overall.
After starting the season 10-0, the Gophers have dropped three out of four to tumble down the rankings. Although the weekly polls have not been released at the time of this writing, it’s hard to imagine Minnesota being #1 overall after this weekend. More concerning is their drop down the PairWise Rankings – the pair of losses dropped the Gophers to #8 in the PWR.
Next up: Minnesota hosts Arizona State for another non-conference series. The games are this Thursday and Friday, with Thursday’s game starting at 7PM and Friday’s contest a 4PM start. Both games are on Fox Sports North TV, AM1130 radio, and streaming on Fox Sports Go.
The Gophers were without senior center Scott Reedy and sophomore defenseman Matt Staudacher in both games. Both are key players, and the absences were apparent on the ice. It is unclear whether either player will be available against Arizona State next weekend.
Sampo Ranta (9G-3A) and Ben Meyers (5G-7A) lead the team with 12 points.
Jack LaFontaine’s GAA (1.47) is fifth in the nation, while his Sv% (0.947) is seventh.
Minnesota is 16th in total offense at 3.29 goals per game, while they still excel defensively, giving up just 1.71 goals per game, behind just Minnesota State for second nationally.
The Gophers are now the best in the nation in penalty minutes against, taking just 5.00 minutes of penalties per game.