By Tyler Reidy and Tom Zwiller
A day before the Irish took the ice for their series opener against the No. 2 Minnesota Golden Gophers, football head coach Marcus Freeman got them ready.
“One shift, one life — that was the spiel he gave us,” senior forward and assistant captain Trevor Janicke said of Freeman’s Thursday meeting with the team. “Go out there and do your best, and afterwards there’s nothing you can do, so just reset every shift. Every shift’s a new shift.”
Even without captain and senior defenseman Nick Leivermann, the Irish were prepared to compete. Notre Dame went to the power play late in the first period and made the most of it. In the waning seconds of the man advantage, junior forward Landon Slaggert and graduate student forward Chayse Primeau delivered crisp passes from below the goal line and across the net mouth, setting up sophomore forward Justin Janicke for a one-timer to put the Irish ahead 1-0.
Minnesota was quick to answer thanks to some puck luck. Exactly one minute after Janicke’s marker, senior goaltender Ryan Bischel rejected a shot from the blue line. The puck fluttered straight up in the air and out of sight. When it came down on the crease, Mason Nevers jammed it home to tie the game.
Notre Dame found a new gear early in the second, and Trevor Janicke paid it off. Janicke took a bump from Minnesota’s Jimmy Snuggerud coming out of the corner that caused the latter to lose his stick. That allowed Janicke to break toward the net, where he roofed his team-leading seventh goal on Minnesota goaltender Justen Close.
The Gophers couldn’t capitalize on a power play to open the third, and they remained quiet throughout the period. They finally emptied the net with 1:05 to play and broke through on Bischel after 43 fruitless minutes. With 24.6 seconds left, Jackson LaCombe hammered a one-timer through traffic to even the score.
Though the Golden Gophers might have a talent edge, sporting several players taken in the NHL draft, the Irish found a way to hang around.
“They’re first-round draft picks, but we can compete with them,” Trevor Janicke said. “We’re just trying to get in front of pucks and block some shots, and unfortunately one of them slipped through.”
As overtime began, the players reminded one another of Coach Freeman’s message. Notre Dame hardly touched the puck in the 3-on-3 period. But the Irish forced a shootout as Snuggerud’s clanked a last-ditch shot off the bottom of the crossbar. After the Gophers’ top line torched Notre Dame in November, the Irish held them without a point in 65 minutes of play.
“It was a combination of different lines playing against them,” head coach Jeff Jackson said. “The key thing is that it’s a dynamic line and you can’t just focus on one guy. I thought our guys defended pretty well for the most part.”
In the shootout, Minnesota kept its top three forwards on the bench, and its first two shooters missed.
“I think I did a good job of holding my feet,” Bischel said. “That’s something I’ve worked on with Coach Jackson a lot since I’ve been here — being more patient and not dropping early.”
Meanwhile, junior forward Ryder Rolston found the back of the net as Notre Dame’s second contestant. After Trevor Janicke missed, the fight for the extra point came down to Bishcel and Rhett Pitlick, a relative of two NHLers. Pitlick missed, giving the Irish the extra point in a 2-2 tie and shootout win.
“It was a pretty crazy game. It was a lot of fun,” Janicke remarked. “Wish we would’ve found a way to get it in regulation, but I’m pretty happy with the resiliency and the way we bounced back.”
Saturday’s pre-game ceremonial puck drop featured Anthony Clark, a member of the Notre Dame Police Department, and his K9 partner Skete in honor of first responders. The first key event of the game itself was a Minnesota penalty when Ryan Chesley committed a five-minute major for contact to the head, giving the Irish a power play.
Initially the Irish were unable to settle into the Golden Gophers’ zone. One Notre Dame did settle in however, they were able to generate two good scoring chances from Rolston and Primeau.
The Gopher ultimately killed off their penalty, though the Irish still had momentum. That went away when a hit by sophomore forward Hunter Strand from behind resulted in a five-minute major and a game misconduct, ending Strand’s night.
Much like the Irish, Minnesota struggled to control the puck in their attacking zone for the first few minutes of their power play. The Irish would kill off the major, but disaster struck later in the frame. First, Minnesota’s Ryan Johnson lit the lamp at five-on-five with 2:15 left in the first. Then, in the final minute of the first period, the Irish took not one, but two penalties. One was for a cross-checking call on junior defenseman Drew Bavaro. The other was a roughing call on senior forward Solag Bakich, both of which carried into the second.
The Golden Gophers began the second by taking possession of the puck and playing an aggressive attack. Their efforts were rewarded when Logan Cooley broke into the Irish zone off a nice feed by Snuggerud. Not seeing a pass, Cooley brought the puck down into the near faceoff circle, moved to the slot, pivoted and beat Bischel glove side.
Though they were down 2-0, the Irish continued to play hard. They were even gifted a chance to get back into the game when Minnesota's Bryce Brodzinski committed a slashing penalty.
However, the Irish were unable to do anything on their powerplay. In fact, the Irish did less than nothing, as Matthew Knies scored a short-handed goal to make it a 3-0 lead. All the Maple Leafs prospect did was split three Irish defenders to get to the net, redirecting the puck it into the net after briefly losing control right through Bischel's five-hole.
Though there were no goals in the third period, the final twenty minutes did not lack physicality. Bavaro picked up his second penalty of the night for a holding call early in the frame. But the real fireworks began with less than a minute to play. First, Minnesota’s Connor Kurth was ejected from the game for contact to the head. During the stoppage, while Minnesota head coach Bob Motzko challenged the call, Notre Dame was assessed a two-minute bench minor for unsportsmanlike conduct. Though the Irish produced a few good attempts, they ultimately fell 3-0.
The loss drops Notre Dame to 10-11-3 on the season, with a record of 5-7-2-1-1-0 in the Big 10. The split with Minnesota allows them to remain in fifth in the conference. They are seven points behind Penn State, Michigan State, and Ohio State, and two points ahead of Michigan.
The Irish will continue Big Ten play as they go on the road to face the Penn State Nittany Lions. The two teams have already met in South Bend this season. The two teams split the series. Penn State won the first game 5-2, and the Irish took the second 5-3.
Puck drop is at 6 p.m. on Friday and 5 p.m. on Saturday.
Contact Tyler Reidy at firstname.lastname@example.org and Tom Zwiller at email@example.com.