By Jess Myers
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — When you’re playing on the road versus defense-first Notre Dame, forget about the notion of trying to be the first team to get three goals on the board. For the Minnesota Gophers, a lone goal in the second period gave them the confidence needed to cruise on Friday, Jan. 11.
Stymied early by the Irish defense, the Gophers scored first in the middle period and broke things open in the third, notching a 5-1 win at Compton Family Ice Arena.
Tommy Novak and Blake McLaughin scored their first goals of the season, while Brannon McManus had a goal and an assist and Sampo Ranta set up three goals for the Gophers, winners of three of their last four conference games.
Goalie Mat Robson had 42 saves for the Gophers, who got late goals from Sammy Walker and Rem Pitlick, improving to 8-8-4 overall and 5-3-3-0 in the Big Ten.
“It’s important against Notre Dame to score first, and Tommy Novak getting his first one was huge. He’s got so many chances as of recent,” Gophers coach Bob Motzko said. “Against Notre Dame, it’s really a fight to get to one, and then you kind of play some hockey.”The ninth-ranked Irish (12-7-1, 5-5-0-0) got 17 saves from goalie Cale Morris and a late goal from Nick Leivermann, but have now lost three of their last four.
Morris stopped the Gophers’ first 10 shots, but almost certainly couldn’t see the 11th shot, which ended up behind him. McManus passed from the corner to the right of Morris to Novak who was at the top of the left circle. Novak’s rising blast beat the goalie high before he could react.
They doubled the lead with 14:25 to play when the all-freshman line clicked. Nathan Burke was the set-up man this time, getting the puck to McLaughlin low in the left circle. McLaughlin was being defended, but managed to slip a low puck past Morris. The rookie from Grand Rapids, Minn., then pumped his fist and crashed the glass chest-first in front of a handful of Gophers fans, in celebration of his first collegiate goal.“We started the second half a little shaky, but now that we’re starting to beat a few more good teams, that’s really huge for us, starting to get the train on the tracks,” said McLaughlin, who sported an ear-to-ear grin when talking about his first goal. “That was a monkey off the back. I was a little too excited for it.”
The killshot came when Ranta carried the puck into the Irish zone and made a spinning pass, while falling to the ice, to McManus, who popped a quick shot past Morris. Walker made it 4-0 before the Irish ruined Robson’s shutout bid via the first collegiate goal from Eden Prairie, Minn., freshman Nick Leivermann. Pitlick finished the scoring with an empty net goal in the final seconds, his team-leading 10th of the season.
“Their goalie played well. I thought we played well for two periods. But I think we overextended in trying to tie the game up,” Irish coach Jeff Jackson said. “We tried too hard and then they scored the second one and it got worse trying to do things too individualistic where it ends up coming back at you. That’s where we broke down defensively. That’s their game — they’re patient and they wait for transition and they capitalize because they have the skill and ability to do that.”
The scoreless first period saw Robson tested 13 times, and the Gophers feeling the weight of Notre Dame’s smothering defense. Open ice was exceedingly rare for the visitors, who managed five shots on goal and had 10 blocked. The Irish were down a man for a few shifts when one of those blocked shots went off the leg of defenseman Andrew Peeke, who crumpled to the ice and had to be helped off, but returned before the period was over.
“They’re very systematic. That first period was tough,” McManus said. “We knew it was coming, but we kind of got a little taste of it in the first period. We re-grouped after the first intermission, starting playing like we’d practiced and buried a few of our chances.”
Notre Dame 0-0-1—1
First period — No scoring. Penalties — None.
Second period — 1. MIN, Tommy Novak 1 (Brannon McManus, Sampo Ranta), 12:04. Penalties — Blake McLaughlin, MIN (slashing), 15:18.
Third period — 2. MIN, McLaughlin 1 (Nathan Burke), 5:35. 3. MIN, McManus 7 (Ranta), 9:15. 4. Sammy Walker 5 (Ranta, McLaughlin), 15:57. 5. UND, Nick Leivermann 1 (Cam Morrison, Dylan Malmquist), 16:50. 6. MIN, Rem Pitlick 10 (unassisted), 19:49, (en) (sh). Penalties — Tyler Nanne, MIN (elbowing), 18:11.
Shots on goal — MIN 5-9-8—22; UND 13-13-17—43. Goalies — Mat Robson, MIN (43 shots-42 saves); Cale Morris, UND (22-17). Power plays — MIN 0-of-0; UND 0-of-2. Referees — Barry Pochmara, Brett DesRosiers. Linesmen — Jonathan Sladek, Robert Shintani. Att. — 4,008.
Jess Myers (@JessRMyers) can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.