The Minnesota Golden Gophers hockey team will look to keep their season alive and spoil the luck of the Irish on St. Patrick’s Day weekend when they play Notre Dame in a Big Ten Hockey Semifinal Saturday night. The winner advances to the Big Ten Championship game next weekend—the loser’s season is probably over.
Minnesota advanced to the semifinals after a sweep of Michigan in their best-of-three series at Mariucci Arena last weekend. The Gophers are riding a season long five game winning streak into South Bend as they try and keep a run to the NCAA Tournament alive. Minnesota got great play from their top line last weekend. Rem Pitlick, Tyler Sheehy and Brent Gates, Jr combined for three goals on the weekend against the Wolverines. Pitlick now has 45 points on the season which ranks him fourth in the nation. Yet he was somehow a snub when the three finalists for Big Ten Player of the Year were announced earlier this week. Tyler Sheehy added two assists to his backhand snipe of a goal Friday night and how has 149 career points for the Gophers. That ranks him 29th all-time in Gopher history.
Minnesota also had gotten great play from its Freshman line. Blake McLaughlin scored the game tying goal last Friday on a gorgeous feed from Sammy Walker. McLaughlin scored his first two goals of his Gopher career in Minnesota’s weekend sweep of Notre Dame in South Bend in January, so the hope is that he can continue that streak this weekend. Walker was one of three finalists for the Big Ten Freshman of the Year which was announced earlier this week.
In net Minnesota will ride Mat Robson as far as he will take them. The junior was named one of the three finalists for the Big Ten Goalie of the Year this week. He ha a 3-1 record against Notre Dame this season and is 4-2 all-time. Robson leads the Big Ten in saves this season with 915 and is third in the conference in save percentage .920 and wins with 14. He has surrendered just one goal in seven games this year including three of four games against Notre Dame this season. Minnesota most likely will need him to do that again to advance.
Notre Dame comes into the weekend after a home sweep of Michigan State. The Irish did not allow a goal last weekend winning 1-0 and 2-0. Irish goalie Cale Morris stopped all 55 shots he saw against the Spartans and was named the NCAA #1 Star of the Week for his performance.
Morris has been beatable against Minnesota this season. He allowed five goals in Minnesota’s win on Friday in South Bend in January and then allowed just two goals each night in Minneapolis getting a 3-2 win on Friday and a 2-1 loss on Saturday. Minnesota will need to try and get at least two goals if not three. Morris will be insanely tough. He is one of those goalies who always shows up come playoff time. In eight career playoff games, Morris is 7-1-0 with a .969 save percentage and a 1.02 goals-against average. In four career Big Ten tournament games, Morris is 4-0-0 with a 1.04 goals-against average and a .972 save percentage. Thats...good.
Offensively the Irish will look to some veteran leadership. Bobby Nardella leads the team with 31 points on the season with Edina’s Dylan Malmquist right behind with 30 points. Cal Burke and Eden Prairie’s Micheal Graham are tied for the team lead with 11 goals. Notre Dame does not have an explosive scoring line but had good depth throughout—something that will test Minnesota. Keeping the Irish off the scoreboard will make or break the game. Notre Dame is 15-0-1 this season when scoring at least three goals.
Minnesota will also be trying to get the elephant off their back against Notre Dame in the playoffs. The Irish ended the Gophers season in 2017 with a come from behind 3-2 win in the NCAA Regionals after the Gophers had a 2-0 lead. Minnesota defeated the Irish in the 2004 NCAA regional, and also took a two-game total goals WCHA Playoff Series from Notre Dame in 1977.
Minnesota needs a win to advance to the Big Ten Championship game to keep their season alive. Notre Dame comes into the game ranked #15 in the Pairwise...sitting directly on the NCAA Tournament bubble. A win keeps their season alive, and a loss most likely ends it. Additionally both teams know that with a win they have a decent chance to be able to host the Big Ten title game in a week. #1 seed Ohio State is in the NCAA Tournament no matter what happens and is hosting high powered #4 seed Penn State. The Nittany Lions split a series in Columbus in November and were swept at home in January. A PSU win means the winner of the Gopher/Irish game will host the Big Ten Championships next Saturday. If Ohio State wins they host the Big Ten title game next Sunday.
Undoubtedly Saturday’s game will be a tight affair where one mistake could end your season. The Gophers are on a roll and if they come out like the team that played Saturday against Michigan I give them a good chance to win. If they come out like the team that started on Friday night, then it’s probably likely their season ends. Either way it should be a heck of a climax to an epic day of Gopher tournament action.
HOW TO WATCH
BIG TEN SEMIFINAL
#3 Minnesota Golden Gophers @ #2 Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Where: Compton Family Ice Arena, South Bend, Indiana
When: 6PM Saturday
Radio: 1130 AM/103.5 FM, I Heart Radio App