By Jess Myers
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — If you want to silence the Fighting Irish, you call on an Irish kid from northern Minnesota, apparently.
That was the secret for the Minnesota Gophers on Saturday, Jan. 12, at Notre Dame, as they earned their first sweep of the season when Blake McLaughlin, a freshman from Grand Rapids, Minn., scored a dramatic goal with 7.8 seconds left for a 2-1 win.
After a defensive turnover by Irish winger Michael Graham, McLaughlin took a pass from Tyler Sheehy near center ice, won a footrace with the Notre Dame defender, and shoveled a low shot past Irish goaltender Dylan St. Cyr to quiet much of the arena.
“This was just crazy. We kind of got a gift there,” Gophers coach Bob Motzko said, stressing the importance of contributions from throughout his lineup in this team’s current three-game win streak. “As we’ve turned the corner — there, I said it — we’re doing it with depth and we’re not cutting (our bench) short even late in games. We’re playing everybody. That’s why the freshmen are out there in the last minute.”
The Gophers improved 9-8-4 overall and 6-3-3-0 in the Big Ten with the win, which has them in second place, two points back of Ohio State. They got 34 saves from goalie Mat Robson, who improved to 7-4-4 with the win.
It was the second goal of the weekend, and the second of his collegiate career, for McLaughlin, who was a key player for Grand Rapids High School two season ago when the Thunderhawks won the Minnesota state title.
“I think we’re starting to realize that if we’re not going to play good, we’re not going to make the (NCAA) tournament,” McLaughlin said. “We’ve got a bunch of seniors and the underclassmen are trying to play for them now. Our seniors our playing a big role like Sheehy had a great weekend and Robson allowed two goals on however many shots, so he’s stepping up his game in a major way. If we just keep it running we should be pretty good.”
The Irish (12-8-1, 5-6-0-0) struck first on a puck shot from just inside the blue line by Cal Burke. Before it slid between Robson’s knees, the shot was deflected by two Irish players, changing directions twice before eluding the goalie.
Three consecutive penalties called on the Irish in the second led to the Gophers controlling the puck, and tying the game on a man-advantage. Just nine seconds after Notre Dame was whistled for too many men on the ice, Brannon McManus’ second goal of the weekend came when he deflected a Sheehy shot from close range.
“We had a lot more jump in the second and we got some opportunities on the power play. Obviously we capitalized on one of them,” said Sheehy. “It was great for us to put ourselves in a position to win the game in the third period and we were able to do that.”
Both teams had chances to lead that were thwarted, like when Minnesota’s Sampo Ranta fanned on a shot at an open net in the first period, or when Graham had a yawning goalmouth in the third, only to have his shot deflect off the handle end of Robson’s stick and over the net.
Notre Dame, which entered the weekend ranked ninth in the country, out-shot the Gophers 15-6 in the final period and tested Robson repeatedly, but McLaughlin’s shot was the only one to cross the goal line. St. Cyr finished with 24 saves.
“Just like losing in overtime, really. It was kind of a tough play for Michael Graham. It was a turnover where he intended to beat someone 1-on-1. It was a tough play for him to handle the puck off the wall and the defensemen changed assuming he was going to chip it in. But he couldn’t handle because he was turned around,” Irish coach Jeff Jackson said. “Right now, that’s about how things are going. It’s hard to come by goals, and you have to be almost perfect defensively.”
The Gophers’ last road sweep was Feb. 9-10 last season at Wisconsin. They stay on the road next weekend for a Saturday-Sunday series at Michigan State.
Notre Dame 1-0-0—1
First period — 1. UND, Jack Jenkins 3 (Dylan Malmquist, Cal Burke), 7:29. Penalties — Jack Sadek, MIN (cross checking), 9:41; Nate Clurman, UND (tripping), 14:34.
Second period — 2. MIN, . Penalties — Mike O’Leary, UND (cross checking), 2:39; Colin Theisen, UND (tripping), 8:25; Bench, UND (too many men), 10:38.
Third period — 3. MIN, Blake McLaughlin 2 (Sheehy), 19:52. Penalties — Bench, UND (too many men), 13:48; McManus, MIN (slashing), 13:58.
Shots on goal — MIN 6-14-6—26; UND 13-7-15—35. Goalies — Mat Robson, MIN (35 shots-34 saves); Dylan St. Cyr, UND (26-24). Power plays — MIN 1-of-5; UND 0-of-2. Referees — Barry Pochmara, Brett DesRosiers. Linesmen — Jonathan Sladek, Robert Shintani. Att. — 4,540.
Jess Myers (@JessRMyers) can be reached at email@example.com.