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Gophers men craving consistency as Notre Dame visits for Big Ten home opener

Smoothing out the emotional peaks and valleys that meant success and one notable clunker in the college hockey season's first month are a Minnesota Gophers goal, as Notre Dame and their talented Twin Cities native goalie visit Minneapolis.

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Flanked by Ryan Chesley, right, and Rhett Pitlick, left, Minnesota forward Jimmy Snuggerud celebrated his first collegiate goal in the opening period of the Gophers win over Minnesota State Mankato on Friday, Oct. 7, 2022 at 3M Arena at Mariucci in Minneapolis.
Brad Rempel / University of Minnesota Athletics

MINNEAPOLIS – Over the course of a college hockey season that stretches from early October to (if all goes well) the middle of April, there will usually be some emotional highs and some difficult lows.

The Minnesota Gophers have seen both in the last two weeks, with the emotional high of an electric atmosphere for a pair of sold-out home games versus longtime rival North Dakota, to a Big Ten opener in a quiet, sparsely populated Ohio State rink in which the Gophers fell flat.

With their conference home opener looming as Notre Dame comes to 3M Arena at Mariucci for a pair of games this weekend, the third-ranked Gophers (5-3-0 overall, 1-1-0 Big Ten) are trying to find fewer emotional peaks and valleys.

“We’re trying to get things smoothed out right now,” Gophers coach Bob Motzko said. “We had real big emotional weekends versus Mankato and North Dakota. You can’t help it. Then the air was out of the balloon. You don’t want to keep doing that. They’re all big games, but you want to keep things at an even keel. That’s what we’re fighting to get back to consistency.”

The Fighting Irish (4-2-2, 1-0-1) come to town ranked 12th in both national polls, and looking for the same thing – consistency, and wins.

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“Right now, from game to game, I’m still not sure what we’re going to see,” Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson said this week. “We’ve had some really good games where we look really sharp, and I’d love to be able to bottle that, then it disappears.”

One bit of consistency he has seen thus far is the play of senior goalie Ryan Bischel, one of eight Twin Cities metro area players on the Irish roster. After splitting time with other goalies in previous years, the former Benilde-St. Margaret’s and Fargo Force standout has backstopped all of the Notre Dame wins this season and has Jackson’s confidence.

“At the end of last year we made the decision and I thought he was ready to be a number-one guy. We had a good freshman coming in but I really thought that it was (Ryan’s) time to shine,” Jackson said. “I’ve traditionally been a one goalie guy even though the last couple of years we’ve kind of split duties, but Ryan showed me last year that he was ready to take on that role.”

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Former Fargo Force goalie Ryan Bischel started six of Notre Dame's first eight games in the 2022-23 season, as a senior for the Fighting Irish.
Contributed / Notre Dame Athletics

For the Gophers, the 6-4 loss at Ohio State last Friday was a stinger, dropping them out of the top spot in the national polls, but also providing a valuable lesson about the need for that consistency of effort night in and night out.

“I think that was a game we needed and our team learned from it,” said freshman forward Jimmy Snuggerud of the 6-4 clunker versus the Buckeyes . “We came out the second night even stronger and had that win. But that was something that kind of hit us in the head pretty hard and we learned from it.”

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Snuggerud is the team leader with six goals thus far, and is indicative of the rapid pace with which the team’s rookies are adjusting to the pace of college hockey and what it takes to succeed.

“You have to have a tougher mentality now going into more Big Ten play. We have to win these games to be better in the standings,” he said. “Being a freshman you’re considered a younger guy and a weaker guy but (eight) games in we need to start playing more like men.”

Weekend details

Friday and Saturday’s and Sunday’s games versus Notre Dame are 7 p.m. CT starts and will be televised by Bally Sports North Extra. Former Gophers standout Ben Clymer will serve as analyst for both games with Sam Ekstrom on play-by–play.

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The Gophers also have women’s hockey and volleyball at home on Friday night, so U of M officials encourage fans to arrive early as there may be a parking crunch near the arena.

On radio, the Gophers can be heard on 1130 AM / 103.5 FM in the Twin Cities with Wally Shaver and Frank Mazzocco in their 11th season together describing the action.

Postgame interviews with coach Motzko and Gophers players can be seen live, roughly 10 minutes after the final horn at The Rink Live’s Facebook page .

Low-scoring games have been a hallmark of the games between the Gophers and Fighting Irish. On Feb. 9-10, 1925, the teams played a two-game set in Minnesota for their first-ever meetings, with the Gophers prevailing 2-0 and 2-1. Minnesota leads the all-time series versus Notre Dame 38-25-4 and was 3-1 versus the Irish last season.

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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