MINNEAPOLIS -- There are many schools of thought on how to best counter Notre Dame’s legendarily defensive style of hockey. But the one thing opponents never want to do is to see the Fighting Irish play with a lead.
For all but two minutes on Saturday, the Minnesota Gophers saw Notre Dame play with a lead. The result was not only a 2-1 loss for the team that entered the weekend ranked atop the national polls for more than a month, but the Gophers’ first losing streak of the season.
Irish goalie Dylan St. Cyr kept the Gophers at bay for much of the night with 25 saves. Minnesota has now lost two in a row and three of its last four after a 10-0-0 start to the season.
Solag Bakich and Max Ellis scored goals for the Irish -- the first coming just 1:54 into the game. That early lead allowed Notre Dame to play the opponent-frustrating defensive style that has been their calling card.
In falling to 11-3-0 overall and 9-3-0-0-0-0 in the Big Ten, the Gophers had a few notable pushes where they dominated the offensive zone, but could not solve St. Cyr until just 2:24 remained. Jaxon Nelson provided a late ray of hope, finally getting a puck over the Notre Dame goal line to ruin St. Cyr’s bid for a second shutout of the season. But with their goalie pulled, the Gophers could not pull even.
It was a stunning change of fortune for the Gophers, who have been ranked No. 1 in the country for five weeks, and their coach said it was perhaps a needed wake-up call.
“We are not talented enough to just show up at the rink and everything’s going to pop our way,” Bob Motzko said. “Usually you want to learn lessons like this in October and November. Well, we didn’t have and October, and we kind of cruised through November ... you’d rather learn these lessons early in the year, but because of this crazy year, we’re getting our lesson taught to us in January.”
It was the first sweep of the Gophers in Minneapolis since North Dakota won a pair at 3M Arena at Mariucci on Thanksgiving weekend 2019. Jack LaFontaine had 22 saves for Minnesota in the defeat, and said the formula to get back on the winning track is apparent.
“There’s no secret sauce. There’s no secret recipe. There’s not a special speech that coach gives us next week,” LaFontaine said. “I know what our practices are going to look like, but at the end of the day it’s up to the people in the locker room to make sure we bring a certain intensity, a certain edge.”
The Irish picked up where they had left off in Friday’s game, where they dominated the final 20 minutes in a 3-2 win. Notre Dame took a lead less than two minutes into Saturday’s game, scoring on their first shot when Solag Bakich found some open ice and popped a wrist shot past LaFontaine.
“We just needed to come out and work harder and have more of a compete level,” said Gophers captain Sammy Walker. “They were beating us in puck battles and off the draws and stuff. Just to come out and compete harder and play harder.”
Down by a goal after 20 minutes, the Gophers made a strong offensive push to start the second, getting seven of the period’s first nine shots. But an offensive zone penalty on Blake McLaughlin put the Irish up a man, and they scored on the power play for the eventual game-winner.
Then the Irish defense went to work, keeping the Gophers off the board until the final minutes and shutting down the Minnesota power play, which was 0-for-5 on the night and 0-for-7 on the weekend.
“We spent a lot of time on special teams last week in practice,” Irish coach Jeff Jackson said. “It showed off. We needed to do a better job in those situations...and the big thing I thought both nights is that goaltending was a difference on the PK too.”
The Gophers are off until Thursday when they host Arizona State in the opener of a two-game non-conference series.
Notre Dame 1-1-0—2
First period — 1. UND, Solag Bakich 2 (Michael Graham), 1:54. Penalties — Jake Boltmann, UND (slashing), 6:56; Ben Meyers, MIN (slashing), 7:15; Jackson LaCombe, MIN (elbowing), 10:43; Max Ellis, UND (roughing), 16:56.
Second period — 2. UND, Ellis 3 (Spencer Stastney, Trevor Janicke), 10:37, (pp). Penalties — Bakich, UND (roughing), 4:31; Ben Brinkman, MIN (roughing), 4:31; Blake McLaughlin, MIN (hooking), 9:20; Landon Slaggert, UND (interference), 11:47; L. Slaggert, UND (delay of game), 13:51; Graham Slaggert, UND (hooking), 18:45.
Third period — 3. MIN, Jaxon Nelson 3 (Ryan Johnson, LaCombe), 17:36. Penalties — Meyers, MIN (boarding), 19:58.
Shots on goal — MIN 7-11-8—26; UND 10-6-8—24. Goalies — Jack LaFontaine, MIN (24 shots-22 saves); Dylan St. Cyr, UND (26-25). Power plays — MIN 0-of-5, UND 1-of-4. Referees — Brian Aaron, Colin Kronforst. Linesmen — Chad Roethlisberger, Johnathan Morrison. Att. — NA.