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Monday, Feb. 26, 2024
The Observer

Irish to take on Minnesota after bye week

The Notre Dame hockey program will be faced with a big test this weekend when the puck drops in Compton Family Ice Arena as the Irish will play host to the Minnesota Golden Gophers.

The Gophers (13-11-4, 8-6-4-3 B1G) hosted Notre Dame earlier this year in Minneapolis where the Irish (12-11-5, 7-7-4 B1G), undefeated at the time, were served their first tie of the season. Notre Dame was able to get the best of the Gophers in the second game of the series however, beating Minnesota in their own stadium 5-3. 

The Irish are coming into this matchup following a bye week which will possibly grant them some extra energy. But the Gophers are coming in having just had their longest win streak of the season snapped by Michigan State. The Gophers were on a five game run, with big wins over Ohio State (16-10-4, 9-8-3 B1G) and Wisconsin (10-17-1, 5-14-1-1 B1G), when the Spartans lost the first game of the series but ultimately broke their streak in a 4-2 decision.

Irish junior forward Pierce Crawford fights for the puck during Notre Dame's 3-2 overtime win over Ohio State on Nov. 8.
Irish junior forward Pierce Crawford fights for the puck during Notre Dame's 3-2 overtime win over Ohio State on Nov. 8.

Prior to their bye week the Irish had been playing solid hockey, picking up a win at home against Wisconsin and another on the road against Penn State. In fact, Irish head coach Jeff Jackson said it might've been the best hockey the Irish have played all year, noting that he would have preferred his squad play this weekend instead of getting more reps in at practice. 

“That was maybe our best weekend of hockey in a long time, so it would have been nice to play again this past weekend but the schedule is what it is and when you have a bye week you just have to prepare for it the right way and we've done the best we can,” Jackson said. “But, Michigan State came off a bye week the previous week against Minnesota and they got beat pretty good on Friday night.

“So it is an issue and we’ve learned over the years it’s important that you stay competitive in your practices and you hate doing that this time of year but every game is a high competition level. If you don’t do it then you’re probably not going to be physically prepared to play after being off for a full week.”

Despite a mid-season slump the Irish seemed to have turned the tide around. Jackson credits this to their most recent series against Wisconsin. 

“It started somewhat in the Wisconsin series, we started doing a better job of coming out of our zone with speed, good puck decisions, in every zone. Which really, against teams like Penn State and Minnesota, pretty much everybody you play nowadays has got the skill and talent to burn you in transition,” Jackson said. “I thought we did a good job of managing the puck primarily and then when we had to defend we defended well enough against some of the best offensive teams in the country. …  I thought that may have been the most complete game we’ve played all season.” 

The puck will drop inside Lefty Smith Rink at the Compton Family Ice Arena on Valentines Day at 7 p.m. for the first game of the series and then on Saturday at 6 p.m.