The #1 Minnesota Golden Gophers hockey team returns home to the friendly confines of 3M at Mariucci Arena this weekend when they host Notre Dame in a Big Ten regular season series. It will be the first meeting between the two teams this season and the first since Minnesota defeated the Irish two games to one in a best-of-three first round Big Ten playoff series last March—the last three games Minnesota played before the rest of the season was cancelled due to the COVID pandemic.
Minnesota returns home after losing their first game of the season last weekend in Madison against Wisconsin. The badgers defeated Minnesota 3-1 on Saturday before the Gophers came back to earn a split with a 5-3 win on Sunday. Despite the loss the Gophers remained #1 in both national polls this week.
The Gophers will look to get back to their sweeping ways by hopefully getting back to their stingy defensive ways. Wisconsin was the first Big Ten team to score more than three goals in a series against Minnesota this season. One reason for that may have been some fatigue by thee Minnesota defense. The three Gophers who played for the US team at the World Junior Championships, Brock Faber, Jackson LaCombe and Ryan Johnson all played two games in back to back nights, traveled home, practiced once and played in the weekend series in a matter of five days. That is a lot even for some of the best athletes and it showed as all three looked a bit tired over the course of the series. Hopefully with a week of rest those three will be back to their top tier ways this weekend.
Notre Dame comes into Mariucci just out of the national polls as the first team receiving votes. The Irish split a home series against Arizona State last weekend winning the first game 5-4 and losing the second 5-3. Notre Dame will be missing forward Colin Thiesen for Friday night’s game after he was ejected for a contact to the head penalty and given a one game suspension by the Big Ten in the series finale against the Sun Devils. He is the active leading scorer against Minnesota having recorded six points in 16 career games against the Gophers.
On the offensive end the Irish are led by a Minnesota native. Eden Prairie’s Alex Steeves leads the Irish with 12 points on the season and five goals. A trio of Notre Dame players all have eight points including another Eden Prairie native in Michael Graham. Notre Dame has eight Minnesotans on their roster who love to play at home. Defenseman Nick Leiverman-ANOTHER Eden Prairie native is one of them. While Leiverman is not the most prolific scorer, of his eight career goals, five have come against the Gophers.
One notable change for the Irish has been in net. Gone is Cale Morris the four year starter, and his backup Dylan St. Cyr who seemed to be the heir to the net has struggled at times this season and has spit time in net with stop if you have heard this....another MInnesota native in Medina’s Ryan Bischel. Both goalies have played in seven games for the Irish and have nearly identical stats—a goals against average and save percentage of 2.99 and .889 for Bischel and 3.02 and .882 for St. Cyr. The Gophers should have a significant edge in goal with Jack LaFontaine in net.
Despite LaFontaine’s worst weekend of the season last weekend where he allowed five goals over two games he still has some of the best stats in the country with a goals against average of 1.28 and a save percentage of .955. If the Gophers can continue to get an offensive spark from their top line including Sammy Walker and Blake McLaughlin who finally erupted for three goals combined last weekend, it will only help. Minnesota has been riding of the shoulders of several of their other scorers—Ben Meyers leads the team with 12 points on the season with Scott Reedy right behind at 11 and Sampo Ranta and his team leading seven goals with 10. Reedy missed Sunday’s finale against Wisconsin with an injury, but should be back in the lineup this weekend according to Bob Motzko.
If Minnesota can play like they did in every game but last Saturday against the Badgers, there is a fairly good chance that the Battle Hymn can ring through Mariucci on Saturday. But sleepwalk through a game again and the Irish are good enough to steal at least one game from you.
HOW TO WATCH
Notre Dame Fighting Irish @ #1 Minnesota Golden Gophers
Where: 3M Arena at Mariucci, Minneapolis, MN
When: 7 PM Friday/ 5 PM Saturday
TV: Fox Sports North + (Fri), Fox Sports North (Sat)
Radio: 1130 AM/103.5 FM/ I Heart Radio App