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Irish Split Series with Minnesota, End 3-Game Losing Streak

Updated: Feb 18

Written by Liam Gaudet ⏐ Senior Editor ⏐ Twitter/X: @LiamGaudetIT

Photo by The Irish Tribune

Notre Dame (14-14-2) kicked off their BIG 10 home series against the eighth ranked Minnesota Golden Gophers on Friday night at the Compton Family Ice Arena in South Bend, as the Irish looked to bounce back from a three game conference skid. The Irish, who were 8-10-2 in conference play at the time, entered their third straight series against a conference opponent who was ranked within the top 10 nationally and chalk-full of NHL talent.

Game 1 - Friday, February 16th (7:30 PM EST)

Notre Dame was able to stave off attacks from the Gophers early into the first frame, as Rhett Pitlick found himself alone on a breakaway within five minutes of the game. The shot and subsequent rebound were steered away by Mike Richter Award semi-finalist Ryan Bischel, who stopped all 11 shots he faced in the first period. A few moments later, a shot from the point was able to squeak through Bischel by way of a deflection, before coming to rest at the edge of the crease before being cleared in a chaotic sequence by the Irish defense.

Once Notre Dame began to settle in, there was no looking back. The Irish counter attack sprung an odd-man rush 11 minutes in, which saw Carter Slaggert notch his third goal of the campaign, as he jammed in a slow rolling puck past Justin Close courtesy of a Danny Nelson rebound. Notre Dame would carry that 1-0 lead into first intermission despite being outshot 11-8 thanks to stellar play from Bischel and the opportunistic play of Ali, Nelson and Slaggert.

Notre Dame wasted no time building on the momentum, as less than two minutes into the second period, Jake Boltmann delivered a beautiful pass from the corner directly on the tape of Cole Knuble at the far post who buried his eighth of the year to make it 2-0. The Irish were having a much easier time entering the offensive zone, and didn't necessarily need to rely too heavily on the counter attack in the second frame. Knuble would double down seven minutes later, deflecting a low shot from the point by Danny Nelson, the 2023 New York Islanders second round draft pick, who added his second assist in the contest. Team captain Landon Slaggert would add his team-leading 18th just three minutes later on a rebound from the point, which would chase Minnesota netminder Justin Close after giving up his fourth goal on fourteen shots. The Golden Gophers would show signs of life, however, as a 2-on-1 turned into a 2-on-0 when Zach Plucinski fell to the ice, which allowed Aaron Huglen to cut the lead to 4-1. The comeback hopes were dashed quickly, as freshman phenom Danny Nelson would cap-off his three point night with an elegant steal at the Gopher blue line, gliding into a 2-on-1 where he would keep the puck and bury a snap shot short side on Nathan Airey. The Irish would lead 5-1 heading into the second intermission.

Notre Dame would protect the lead in the third, adding a final powerplay goal in the dying minutes of the game courtesy of Drew Bavaro. The Irish would finish the game 1-2 on the powerplay, while being outshot 32-28. Needless to say, a dominant second period lifted Notre Dame to their first conference victory since February 2nd.

Game 2 - Saturday, February 17th (6:00 PM EST)

Much like the first game, Notre Dame found themselves behind the 8-ball early into the first period, as Minnesota was able to keep the Irish attack at bay for the majority of the first period. The Irish could only manage to muster four shots, but held their own in the defensive end to keep the game scoreless after one. There wasn't a whole lot to write home about in the first, as it seemed that both teams were looking to get their legs underneath of them, while playing cautiously in hopes to avoid making the first mistake.

The offense would come alive in the second period for both teams, starting with a particularly odd goal from behind the net for the Golden Gophers. A centering pass from Connor Kurth below the net would bank off of Zach Plucinski's skate and into the net, giving the Gophers the go-ahead tally less than two minutes in. To that point in the series, Ryan Bischel had only allowed one goal on his last 45 shots from Minnesota. Irish nerves were quelled shortly after, as junior Justin Janicke would enter the offensive zone with speed, flying around the net and tucking in a wraparound with Close out of position to tie the game. This, again, came as a direct result of the Irish counterattack, stemming from a block in the defensive zone courtesy of Tyler Carpenter. Another Notre Dame counterattack goal would ensue shortly after, as a turnover at the red line forced by Brady Bjork would be shuffled ahead to Jayden Davis who unleashed a howitzer off the post and into the net from the top of the circle for his second goal of the season to put the Irish back in front. That would also register as Bjork's first career point for Notre Dame, which would come at a critical time. Unfortunately for the Irish, they would be caught on the next shift by another odd-man rush leading to a tying goal just 18 second later. The game would remain tied, forcing overtime in Compton.

Just 1:18 into the sudden death frame, Minnesota's X-factor Jimmy Snuggerud would wire a shot past Bischel through a screen, ending the hopes of a series sweep for the Irish. Notre Dame was outshot 39-26 in the game, and did not receive any powerplay opportunities.

Despite the loss, Coach Jeff Jackson seemed pleased with the effort his team put forth in this series.

"We played one of the hottest teams in the country, a top-10 team, toe to toe all weekend."

Jackson said following the defeat.

"Disappointing finish, but a good weekend for the most part. Pleased with the guys who battled as hard as they could. They obviously elevated, but we held in there and found a way to at least get a point out of the game, and that gives us the season series against Minnesota too."

When asked about the contributions from the younger players on the roster, Jackson would provide some insight into the programs future as well.

"Well, it's two different things tonight. You feel for the older guys, but the younger guys are our future, and they're certainly an impactful group. Hopefully they continue to develop over the rest of the year and they become the leaders moving into next year."

Notre Dame will finish up the season next weekend against the Michigan Wolverines.


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