Minnesota is currently tied with both the Irish and Michigan for third place in the Big Ten Standings with 15 points. Notre Dame has a game in hand on the Gophers, and Minnesota has one in hand on the Wolverines. So this weekend could be a big one for one of the teams to create some separation.
The Gophers come in off of a home split with Penn State. Penn State won 4-2 on Friday, and the Gophers came back to win 4-1 on Saturday in arguably their best played game of the season. Mat Robson got both nights in goal, and one would expect he would at least get the Friday opener this weekend with Saturday’s goalie depending on how he plays on Friday.
Minnesota is getting offensive help from its GPS Line. Brent Gates, Jr, Rem Pitlick, and Tyler Sheehy have come alive recently and have combined for 35 points in their last ten games. Gates has scored in five straight games and was named the Big Ten Second Star of the Week earlier this week.
Notre Dame comes into the weekend after a loss in it’s outdoor game last Saturday against Michigan. The Irish are ranked #9 in the country but are just 5-4 in Big Ten play. They return stud goalie Cale Morris. Morris has not been as good as he was a season ago but still has a very good 2.03 goals against average and a remarkable 93.5% save percentage in 16 games. Morris was nearly unbeatable a year ago for the Irish and held the Gophers to just four goals in four games against Notre Dame a year ago.
Offensively Notre Dame is led by some familiar names. Junior Cal Burke leads the team with 20 points and nine goals on the season. Edina native Dylan Malmquist is second on the team in scoring with 18 points along with senior defenseman Bobby Nardella.
The Irish have been just average on special teams this season with a 17.8% success rate on the power play which ranks them 35th in the nation. Minnesota’s 21.2% ranks them 15th. On the penalty kill Notre Dame has succeeded in killing 81.25% which is good enough for 27th in the nation, but not as good as the Gophers 84.8% which ranks them 13th. The thing the Irish gave going for them is that they are the third least penalized team in the country with just 7.95 penalty minutes per game.
If the Gophers can play their game and take advantage of the limited power play opportunities the Irish will give them, then Minnesota should be able to find a way to earn a split this weekend. But if they can’t score and Morris is on, well it could be a long weekend. The Gophers at minimum need a split here to keep climbing up the Pairwise rankings as the Big Ten season rolls on. A Notre Dame sweep won’t be the final nail in the Gophers at-large NCAA Tournament hopes, but lets just say the hammer and nails are on the table.
HOW TO WATCH:
Minnesota Golden Gophers @ #9 Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Where: Compton Family Ice Arena, South Bend, Indiana
When: 6PM Friday and Saturday
TV: Friday NBC Sports Network, Saturday SNY
Radio: 1130 AM, 103.5 FM, IHeart Radio App