Looking to take five of six points on the weekend against fifth-ranked Notre Dame, the Minnesota Golden Gophers took a 2-0 lead into the first intermission Friday night. Things were looking up for the Gophers, as they carried some favorable momentum into the locker room. Goals from Brannon McManus and Jack Perbix had them eyeing a win and an incredible five-point weekend.
The lead could have been more than just two for Minnesota, however, as the Gophers had some other Grade-A chances turned away by Notre Dame’s Cale Morris. Morris kept the Fighting Irish just down two at the first intermission, which helped paved the way for a bounceback in the second period. “Their goaltender made the saves, especially early when we were up two,” said Gophers head coach Bob Motzko. “He shut the door on us.”
An underlying problem for the Gophers during Friday night’s second overtime session win was that they were taken to task by Notre Dame in the faceoff circle. The Irish won 36 of 59 faceoffs on Friday night, but the Gophers were able to overcome that and get the two points.
That was not the case on Saturday night. Notre Dame even further demolished Minnesota at the dot, and used that to rally from behind against the Gophers in a 5-3 win at 3M Arena at Mariucci.
After winning 11 of 18 faceoffs in the first period, Notre Dame would go 30 for 41 in the final two periods. For those adding up at home, that means the Irish won 41 of 59 draws in this hockey game. Motzko reiterated the faceoff stats with, “We got destroyed in faceoffs. Destroyed! You start the entire night on defense and that wears you down.”
A strategy that Notre Dame works on often as their head coach Jeff Jackson noted postgame following his team’s domination in the faceoff circle. “Its a point of emphasis with us. We spend a lot of time on faceoffs.”
“Faceoffs is a really important part of possessing the puck,” Jackson said. “That’s the best defense there is, possessing the puck. That’s a huge component of what we want to do.”
Possessing the puck was exactly what Notre Dame did to wear down the Gophers as the game went on. Motzko noted that the rally started with two penalties in the second period, which helped bring the Irish bench to life. “They score the first one and their bench got life and that was a turning point to get Notre Dame back in.”
Notre Dame struck three times in the second period but the Gophers also were able to counter with a Garrett Wait goal. The game went into the second intermission tied at three, but all momentum was on the side of Notre Dame.
In the third, the Gophers still could not answer Notre Dame in the faceoff circle, and the Irish’s suffocating defense played a huge role in limiting the Gophers offense to just two shots on goal in the final frame. Chasing from losing faceoffs was a big part of the problem.
Charlie Raith scored just 1:25 into the third, and Notre Dame’s defense did the rest. Trevor Janicke added an empty netter for good measure, which secured the win over Minnesota and three important points in the Big Ten standings.
Special teams and goaltending also played a role in the loss as well, as Minnesota went 0-3 on the power play, and let up a goal on the penalty kill. Jared Moe had an up and down night in goal, making some key saves but letting a few in that he would like back. His head coach certainly would like them back.
“If you take any game, faceoffs are critical, goaltending is critical, special teams are critical,” declared Motzko. “Notre Dame is leaving tonight with a win and they won those three categories.”
Minnesota forward Brannon McManus reiterated the struggles in the faceoff circle, and added that it should be a point of emphasis for the Gophers this next week during practice. “We got killed on draws this weekend. We need to start with that, we don’t need to be chasing in our own end.”
Motzko added that faceoffs will get work as well this next week. “We have to go to the drawing board. Some of our centers have to learn to tie up and know what you’re up against.”
The young Gophers will have to work on it and learn quickly, as they head to Ann Arbor next weekend for a battle with Michigan where winning faceoffs and possessing the puck will be key once again.