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Gophers' disciplined style leads to sweep of Notre Dame

While the Fighting Irish struggled to get their offense on track, the Minnesota Gophers enjoyed plenty of time around the visitors net, scoring a pair of second-period goals to take control of a close game and complete the weekend sweep.

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Minnesota forward Logan Cooley left Notre Dame's Jesse Lansdell in a cloud of snow in the opening period between the Gophers and Irish on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022 at 3M Arena at Mariucci in Minneapolis.
Bjorn Franke / Gopher Sports

MINNEAPOLIS — Maybe the way to handle the start of what could be a long Minnesota winter is to pretend that it’s spring instead. The Minnesota Gophers did something similar to sweep Notre Dame on Saturday, playing a game befitting of the tight-checking, low-scoring college hockey playoffs to blank the Irish.

Second-period goals by Jaxon Nelson and Matthew Knies, along with a defensive effort that seemed to mirror what Notre Dame has usually done so well, lifted the Gophers to a 3-0 win and a sweep of their weekend Big Ten series.

For the second consecutive night, Minnesota was in complete control of the offensive zone, pelting Notre Dame goalie Ryan Bischel with 31 shots and scoring on an extended power play.

“Exactly what we knew, it was going to be a battle. We got the first one, and we got a power-play goal,” said Gophers coach Bob Motzko. “And then it turned into an arm wrestling match. We won some battles and lost some battles.”

With the win, the Gophers improved to 7-3-0 and are now 3-1-0 in conference play. Logan Cooley scored into an empty net with 3.1 seconds on the clock for the clincher.

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The Irish (4-4-2, 1-2-1) struggled to find offensive continuity throughout. Bischel finished with 28 saves while Gophers goalie Justen Close had 21 for his second shutout of the season.

“Closer was good when we needed him,” Motzko said. “Great grow-up game for our group. I like to have lessons like that when you win."

After a scoreless first period, Nelson gave Minnesota the lead on a pretty backhander at the top of the crease, following a cross-ice pass from Bryce Brodzinski. On the play, Gophers captain Brock Faber was hit up high, leading to a major penalty and an ejection from the game for Irish forward Jesse Lansdell. Knies scored on the extended man-advantage to double the Gophers’ lead.

The Irish, who got their only goal of the weekend in the final minute of Friday’s 4-1 Gophers win, are struggling to generate offense.

“With the exception of the Friday night against Michigan State, we haven’t scored a lot of goals five-on-five,” Irish coach Jeff Jackson said, referencing a 5-0 win versus the Spartans on Oct. 28. “Our power play dried up a bit and you’re not going to score if you don’t score in those situations.”

Dreaming of spring, already

Close learned a lesson about the nature of the NCAA playoffs last March, backstopping the Gophers first trip to the Frozen Four since 2014 and clinching the trip to Boston with a shutout in a lock-down all-out defensive game to beat Western Michigan in the regional final.

Against a Notre Dame team that always plays that kind of game, the Gophers got a reminder of what it will take several months from now if they are going to return to the Frozen Four.

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“We’re used to that kind of game versus Notre Dame. We’ve seen it for four years now,” said Close. “They play a tight checking game that kind of goes up and down the ice and it can take a while for things to get going. We were prepared for that kind of game.”

Nelson, who scored for the second consecutive night, was cognizant of how precious goals can be when facing that team with the shiny gold helmets.

“Playing Notre Dame, it’s the same game every time. We just say you can’t get boring with it,” Nelson said. “Dumping the puck isn’t the most fun thing to go retrieve it back, but that’s what you've got to do to beat them. You’ve got to play disciplined and play hard and play simple.”

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A banner celebrating the Minnesota Gophers winning the 2022 Big Ten regular season title was unveiled prior to their game versus Notre Dame on Saturday, November 5, 2022 at 3M Arena at Mariucci in Minneapolis.
Bjorn Franke / Gopher Sports

Extra pucks

Healthy scratches from the Gophers lineup on Saturday were forwards Carl Fish, John Mittelstadt and Colin Schmidt, and defenseman Matt Staudacher.

Prior to the game, the Gophers players came out onto the team bench to watch the unveiling of the team’s 2022 Big Ten regular season champions banner.

The Gophers continue Big Ten play next week with a Thursday-Friday series versus Penn State at 3M Arena.

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Minnesota captain Brock Faber sent a puck toward the Notre Dame net in the first period of a game between the Gophers and Irish on Saturday, November 5, 2022 at 3M Arena at Mariucci in Minneapolis.
Bjorn Franke / Gopher Sports

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Minnesota 3, Notre Dame 0

Minnesota 0-2-1—3

Notre Dame 0-0-0—0

First period — No scoring. Penalties — None.

Second period — 1. MN, Jaxon Nelson (Bryce Brodzinski, Mason Nevers), 10:15. 2. MN, Matthew Knies 7 (Jimmy Snuggerud, Ryan Johnson), 13:31, (PP). Penalties — Solag Bakich, ND (slashing), 6:16; Jesse Lansdell, ND (5 & game misconduct – contact to the head), 10:15; Jackson LaCombe, MN (hooking), 18:08.

Third period — 3. MN, Logan Cooley 3 (Johnson), 19:57, (EN). Penalties — Aaron Huglen, MN (interference), 2:44; Nick Leivermann, ND (cross checking), 13:43.

Shots on goal — MN 9-17-5—31 ND 3-7-11—21. Goalies — Justen Close, MN (21 shots-21 saves); Ryan Bischel, ND (30-28). Power plays — MN 1-of-4, ND 0-of-2. Referees — Jake Rekucki, Kenny Anderson. Linesmen — Dan Cohen, Johnathan Morrison. Att. — 8,291.

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Jess Myers covers college hockey, as well as outdoors, general sports and travel, for The Rink Live and the Forum Communications family of publications. He came to FCC in 2018 after three decades of covering sports as a freelancer for a variety of publications, while working full time in politics and media relations. A native of Warroad, Minn. (the real Hockeytown USA), Myers has a degree in journalism/communications from the University of Minnesota Duluth. He lives in the Twin Cities. Contact Jess via email at jrmyers@forumcomm.com, or find him on Twitter via @JessRMyers. English speaker.
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