Jimmy Snuggerud celebrates a goal. Photo by Craig Cotner
Jimmy Snuggerud celebrates a goal. Photo by Craig Cotner

Gophers Thrashed Friday, OT Winners Saturday in South Bend

South Bend, IN – This weekend for Minnesota was about facing adversity. The Gophers probably feel like they got a full season’s worth against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish Friday and Saturday night.

After a brutal 6-1 drubbing at the hands of the hosts, the visiting Minnesota Gophers (19-8-5 Overall (4-0 OT), 9-6-3-4 B1G (37 Pts) found a way to bounce back, fighting through two separate questionable goalie interference calls and winning in overtime on Jimmy Snuggerud’s first goal since January 19th to take two points from Notre Dame (15-15-2 (2-1), 9-10-1-2 (31)) on the weekend.

Coming in one of the hottest teams in college hockey since the holiday break, Minnesota cooled off quickly Friday evening. This writer thought Minnesota played a good first period Friday, dominating the possession battle and winning the shots 11-8 in the first frame. However, the Irish won on the scoreboard as Carter Slaggert scored midway through the first to give ND a 1-0 lead.

The second period was all ND, with the Irish running the score up to 4-0 in the first 11 minutes and change of the middle stanza, forcing Justen Close out of the game. Aaron Huglen was able to score late in the period to draw the Gophers within three at 4-1, but Notre Dame tacked on a last-minute goal to go 5-1 heading to the third.

It was a whole lotta nothing in the third period, with the Irish scoring on a late powerplay to close the book at 6-1. Chalk it up to one of those games where the team just wasn’t prepared to play.

A better version of the Gophers showed up to play on Saturday. Minnesota tilted the ice Notre Dame’s way all game, outshooting the Irish 39-26 throughout the contest and winning the shots battle in every period. Goals were hard to come by, though, with neither team denting the twine in the first.

Minnesota’s Connor Kurth scored the first goal of the game early in the second period, when his shovel out front from behind the net hit a Notre Dame defender’s skate and ricocheted into the net at 1:44. Notre Dame scored a goal about five-minutes later on Justin Janecke’s wraparound, but with an ND player in the crease ahead of the puck and in the way of Close’s ability to make the stop, Gopher coach Bob Motzko challenged the goal for goalie interference. After a lengthy review, the goal was upheld because the player was ruled to be pushed into the crease area. The logic on this one doesn’t hold up compared to other recent goalie interference calls that have gone against Minnesota as well. More on this later.

ND took a brief lead later in the second when Jayden Davis scored on a beautifully-placed wrist shot from the left circle at 13:22 to go up 2-1. Minnesota’s Jaxon Nelson responded with a goal of his own just 18 seconds later, roofing a shot past ND goalie Ryan Bischel on a rush up the left wing to tie the game 2-2.

The Gophers poured on 14 shots in the third period in an attempt to win the game outright, but Ryan Bischel was up to the task, turning aside all 14 chances to keep the game 2-2 heading into overtime. There was another controversial non-call late in the third, when Aaron Huglen’s rush toward the net resulted in the puck going in for the Gophers with under five minutes remaining. Huglen was pushed into the ND goalie, but the goal was waived off emphatically on the ice and after a brief review the call was upheld. LOL, amirite?

Thankfully for the Gophers, the team was able to prevail in the 3×3 overtime period. Jimmy Snuggerud, in the midst of a major slump, rushed the puck up the left wing and found himself one-on-one with a ND defender. Snuggerud cut to the middle and fired, using the d-man as a screen. The quick wrister snuck through Bischel’s arm and into the back of the net, winning the game for Minnesota 3-2 in overtime.

The goal could be an important one for Snuggerud, who had been gripping the stick pretty tightly the last few weekends with nothing to show for it.

Although the weekend result was disappointing, it could have been worse. Lots of top teams around the country had ‘trap weekends’ (Wisconsin swept by Ohio State, North Dakota swept by CC, Maine swept by UNH), so the Gophers salvaging an OT win is important, especially going into a bye-weekend. With the fatigue of the season setting in alongside a few bumps and bruises, the week off comes at a good time for Minnesota.

The Gophers are now #9 in the Pairwise, but they appear to be a near lock for the NCAA tournament as an at-large bid right now, and could jump up as high as a #1 seed if they win out and the chips fall where they need to in other games around the country.

The two-point weekend also effectively locks the Gophers into a home-ice playoff spot in the Big Ten playoffs, as it is impossible for Minnesota to finish lower than 4th place. Minnesota still could technically catch 2nd place Wisconsin, and Michigan and Notre Dame each have chances to catch Minnesota in third, but at this point it’s looking like third place is where the Gophers will slot in. Minnesota looks likely to play either Penn State (currently 6th) or Ohio State (currently 7th) in the first round of the Big Ten playoffs.

After next weekend’s bye week, the Gophers will host Michigan in the regular season’s final series on March 1st and 2nd.