Goal scoring in focus for both teams as Gophers begin back half of Big Ten schedule at Notre Dame
A trio of recent low-scoring games may have been the perfect prep work for the Minnesota Gophers to face a Notre Dame club that has struggled to score consistently and is known for defense.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Last week, Minnesota Gophers coach Bob Motzko made it clear that games versus in-state rivals like Bemidji State and St. Cloud State were important, and would continue for the good of the game in Minnesota.
Motzko might not have planned it this way, but it turns out that a low-scoring exhibition win versus the Beavers on New Year’s Eve, and a pair of low-scoring games with the Huskies last weekend, were something akin to perfect prep work for a dive back into the Big Ten schedule. There’s no secret that scoring goals is way, way down on the priority list for Notre Dame, which hosts the Gophers this weekend in a pair of conference games.
The Irish, who are currently 10-10-2 overall and have dropped out of the top 20 in the national polls, have underachieved this season. Meeting with reporters this week, Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson admitted some frustration at their inconsistency, especially in terms of offense. Last weekend, when they lost 2-0 at Wisconsin, then beat the Badgers 6-4 the next night, is a perfect example.
“Our team seems to be all or nothing at times. When we do score, we get four or five. When we don’t score, we get shut out. It’s a frustrating situation, but it’s one we’re trying to improve on,” said Jackson, whose team was swept by the Gophers in Minneapolis in early November. “We’ve gotten better in some areas of our game, but we’ve still got inconsistencies that seem to plague us, and that’s probably why we’re a .500 hockey team.”
With only conference games left between now and the NCAA regional round in late March, the Gophers are in a strong position to repeat as Big Ten champions, and with a 16-6-0 record are atop the Pairwise rankings , holding down the second spot in the national polls. While a possible 24-hour flu bug continues to make its way through the locker room, they are as close to full strength as can realistically be expected for mid January heading into the games in Indiana.
Motzko said they’re paying attention to the games with the Irish in November, cognizant of the fact that both teams are different today than they were two months ago.
“You’ve got to see how they’ve changed, they’ve got to see how we’ve changed. That’s what we’re breaking down right now,” Motzko said. The Gophers averaged more than five goals per game in their last eight outings prior to the holiday break, and won seven of them. In the Bemidji State exhibition and the two with St. Cloud State, they scored four goals, total, and were blanked for the first time this season.
“All I talked about coming back (from the break) is that we’ve got to play in some 1-0, 1-1 games and see how we do. Well, we’ve done that now, so now I want to go back and score some goals,” Motzko said. “It was (about) us being more comfortable playing in tight games. And I think playing in Bemidji, and what we went through in St. Cloud, kind of put us in that frame of mind.”
The Irish mainstay in goal is former Benilde-St. Margeret’s standout Ryan Bischel, who has been the goalie of record for 21 of the 22 Notre Dame games thus far. While the top three Gophers goal scorers have put the puck in the net 35 times, the top three scorers for the Irish have combined for 17 goals. Jackson noted that such inconsistencies put pressure on everyone, from the net on out.
“It seems like most of the games we play, we don’t have a lot of margin for error, and that’s where we get in trouble,” he said. “Bischel has played well for us consistently, but it’s even stressful on the goaltending because we’re not scoring on a good enough basis.”
The games versus the Fighting Irish face off at 6 p.m. CT on Friday and 5 p.m. CT Saturday at Compton Family Ice Arena on the Notre Dame campus. Both games can be seen on Peacock , NBC’s streaming service, with Connor Clingen and veteran NHL defenseman Steve Konroyd calling the games.
On radio, the Gophers can be heard on 1130 AM / 103.5 FM in the Twin Cities with Wally Shaver and former Gophers forward Pat Micheletti on the broadcast this weekend.
The Gophers are 40-25-4 all-time versus the Irish. Their first series was played on Feb. 9-10, 1925 in Minneapolis, with the Gophers winning 2-0 and 2-1. In more recent history, the Gophers have won seven of their past eight meetings with Notre Dame.