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Gophers' opportunistic offense, stellar goaltending produce important win at Notre Dame

While the Minnesota Gophers were scoring even strength, power play and shorthanded goals, Justen Close was posting his fourth shutout of the season in the other end of Notre Dame's rink.

COLLEGE HOCKEY: JAN 14 Minnesota at Notre Dame
Notre Dame goalie Ryan Bischel tried, and failed, to stop a shotrhanded shot by Minnesota forward Matthew Knies in the second period of a game between the Fighting Irish and Golden Gophers on Saturday, January 14, 2023 at Compton Family Ice Arena in South Bend, Ind.
Joseph Weiser / Big Ten Network

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Wins are wins, any way you get them, but beating a team at its own game, on the road, has a little extra boost of satisfaction.

That was the script on Saturday, as the Minnesota Gophers used opportunistic offense and outstanding goaltending, beating Notre Dame 3-0 to take four of six Big Ten points in their weekend series.

Justen Close had 38 saves for his fourth shutout of the season as the Gophers improved to 17-6-1 overall and 11-2-1 in the conference. Ryan Johnson, Logan Cooley and Matthew Knies scored for the Gophers, who got even-strength, power play and shorthanded goals in the win.

"We played really hard. And Justen Close was outstanding in goal, and he had to be for us to get the win," Gophers coach Bob Motzko said. "We were still rusty though, and it was evident with how many turnovers we had. But you can see it's going to come back to us."

Hear postgame comments from Minnesota Head Coach Bob Motzko

For the Irish (10-11-3, 5-7-2), goalie Ryan Bischel had 21 saves, but their propensity for taking penalties proved costly. Minnesota won the season series with the Irish with a 3-0-1 mark after they had tied 2-2 in Friday’s series opener.

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"We played really well five-on-five. The difference was our penalty kill was a big problem and some of the penalty calls were very questionable," Irish coach Jeff Jackson said. "Two of the calls could've been dives, could've been embellishment...We took a couple bad penalties and you can't do that against a team like this."

After killing an early five minute major penalty, the Gophers got the only goal of the opening period when Johnson’s shot from the blue line appeared to hit an Irish stick and a shin pad before finding a home behind Bischel.

Notre Dame Head Coach Jeff Jackson's postgame thoughts

01142023_HKY_Minnesota_0667.jpg
Minnesota goalie Justen Close thwarted a scoring chance by Notre Dame forward Justin Janicke during the second period between the Golden Gophers and Fighting Irish on Saturday, January 14, 2023 at Compton Family Ice Arena in South Bend, Ind.
Dani Meersman / Notre Dame Athletics

Heading into the weekend series, Jackson had lamented the Irish propensity for take penalties. It was a problem they cleaned up on Friday, but not so much on Saturday. Notre Dame was whistled for nine minutes of infractions in the opening 20 minutes of the game, including a major penalty (which they killed) and two minors in the final minute of the first. That left Minnesota on a two-man advantage for 85 seconds to start the middle frame.

It didn’t take long for Cooley to double the visitors’ lead on the power play, using his patented patience to wait for an opening in front of the Irish net and beating Bischel on the glove side. After the Gophers took a penalty, Knies made a highlight-reel solo rush to the net and made it 3-0 with his, and the team’s, second shorthanded goal of the season.

The Irish out-shot Minnesota 19-6 in the second period, but Close kept the home team off the board.

"Justen on the back end was huge for us. He bailed us out a lot of times with some huge saves," Johnson said. "Some nice efforts by Cooley and Knies. Overall it was a good win."

Postgame comments from Gophers defenseman Ryan Johnson

Close again kept the Irish at bay in the scoreless final period, punctuated by a major penalty on Connor Kurth in the final minute.

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COLLEGE HOCKEY: JAN 14 Minnesota at Notre Dame
Minnesota defenseman Ryan Johnson (23) accepted a round of high fives from his Gophers teammates after scoring his second goal of the season in the first period of their game versus Notre Dame on Saturday, January 14, 2023 at Compton Family Ice Arena in South Bend, Ind.
Joseph Weiser / Big Ten Network

Extra pucks

Healthy scratches for the Gophers on Saturday included defensemen Matt Staudacher and Carl Fish, and forwards John Mittlestadt and Colin Schmidt.

Notre Dame football coach Marcus Freeman, who had given the hockey team a pep talk following mass on Thursday, was in attendance at Saturday’s game.

Gophers freshman defenseman Luke Mittelstadt was injured in the first period due to a hard hit along the boards by Irish center Hunter Strand. While reports indicated that Mittelstadt’s injury was not serious, he was held out for the game’s final two periods as a precaution. Strand was ejected from the game for hitting from behind.

The Gophers return home for a Big Ten series versus Michigan next weekend, with a pair of 7 p.m. games at 3M Arena at Mariucci on Friday and Saturday, January 20-21.

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Minnesota 3, Notre Dame 0

Minnesota 1-2-0—3

Notre Dame 0-0-0—0

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First period — 1. MN, Ryan Johnson 2 (Brody Lamb, Ryan Chesley), 17:45. Penalties — Chesley, MN (5 – contact to the head), 2:27; Hunter Strand, ND (5 & game misconduct – hit from behind), 8:41; Drew Bavaro, ND (cross checking), 19:25; Solag Bakich, ND (roughing after the whistle), 19:57.

Second period — 2. MN, Logan Cooley 12 (Jimmy Snuggerud), 1:13, (PP). 3. MN, Matthew Knies 13 (unassisted), 4:04, (SH). Penalties — Bryce Brodzinski, MN (slashing), 2:49; Ben Brinkman, ND (interference), 16:15.

Third period — No scoring. Penalties — Bavaro, ND (holding), 16:17; Connor Kurth, MN (5 & game misconduct – head contact), 19:07; Bench, ND (unsportsmanlike conduct), 19:07.

Shots on goal — MN 12-6-6—24; ND 7-19-12—38. Goalies — Justen Close, MN (38 shots-38 saves); Ryan Bischel, ND (24-21). Power plays — MN 1-of-4, ND 0-of-2. Referees — Colin Kronforst, Brett Sheva. Linesmen — Nick Huff, Jonathan Sladek. Att. — 5,022.

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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