All the Notre Dame Fighting Irish needed on Friday night was one goal.
The Irish took the game 1-0 as the Minnesota Golden Gophers fell flat from the opening faceoff. The game on Friday also happened to be the first game of the first round of the conference tournament that, if the Gophers don’t advance, could be the team’s final games of the season.
“That was not a good night for us,” head coach Bob Motzko said. “We got off to a bad start in the first period, many, many turnovers. The game was exactly how we scripted it would be all week and our execution was not on.”
Minnesota managed just 12 shots in the game, the lowest single-game total of the season. On top of the lack of shot generation, the shots the Gophers did get off were largely spurned from the perimeter of the offensive zone, be it at the point or beyond the outside of the circles.
The best chance, perhaps, came in the dying minutes and seconds of the third period as Minnesota still trailed 1-0. Scott Reedy, who was the Gophers’ most consistent forward when it came to shot generation and maintaining possession, managed to take a puck off his own rebound and get a clear chance in close on Notre Dame goaltender Cale Morris.
He got his full blade on the shot, but it hit the base of the left post and the puck was subsequently covered by Morris. As Reedy saw better than any of the few fans still in the arena, he leaned over his stick on his knees with his head down, then he looked up at the replay, knowing how close he was to finally evening the score.
“I was on the bench and I thought one was going to come on the power play,” defenseman Ben Brinkman said. “After that, we were getting some chances. I thought one [goal] was going to come eventually.”
Overall, Notre Dame’s defensive prowess and aggressiveness on the forecheck was too much for Minnesota to overcome. As the Gophers fell flat out of the gate in the first, the Irish continued their dominance as Minnesota had no answer to their toil.
Hurried breakouts, poor pass selection and an inability to gain the offensive zone with possession plagued the Gophers all night. It was tough for them to get any momentum with the frustrating style Notre Dame inflicts on its opponents.
“I think we just have to bring a better effort,” Brinkman said. “It’s playoff hockey, our season’s on the line and we didn’t come out with a great effort. We’ve got to bend our knees and work a little harder because if we work that hard, it’s not going to get it done.”
The Gophers need to get a victory on Saturday or their season is effectively over. The second-half surge from a team almost completely out of contention in December may result in a first-round Big Ten tournament exit.
Minnesota’s standing in the pairwise coming into the weekend was not high enough in its own right to qualify for an at-large tournament bid. Losing to Notre Dame Friday and potentially Saturday would not move the Gophers up, so they would be on the outside looking in.
“I hope [Motzko] doesn’t need to press on us because this is ‘do or die’ for us,” goaltender Jack LaFontaine said. “This is it for us. If we don’t win, that’s it. I hope the boys know how urgent and dire the circumstances are for [Saturday.]”