The Minnesota Gophers hockey team heads to Notre Dame this weekend in a critical Big Ten series for not only the conference standings, but for Minnesota to take as much momentum as possible into the “MO” Missing Olympians period of the season. It’s the final Gopher series for at least the next three weeks for Ben Meyers, Mathew Knies, and Brock Faber before they head to Beijing. With those three arguably being the best three players on the ice for the Gophers the last few weeks—well it’s now or never to put up some points this weekend.
Minnesota coms into the weekend after technically getting a split with the Michigan Wolverines last weekend at home. But dig into the stats and see that Minnesota’s Friday win was in overtime getting them only two conference points, and the equivalent of only 55% of a win in the pairwise rankings. Michigan's regulation win Saturday clinched the season series for the Wolverines, got them back the Mariucci-Renfro Trophy given to the season series winner, and put them a full six [points ahead of the Gophers in the Big Ten standings. Minnesota may have two games in hand, but they will be two games in short-hand as Minnesota will need to play three series with their missing Olympians while the Wolverines will only need to play two.
Sitting in even better position may be Ohio State. The Buckeyes are tied with the Wolverines with 33 points on the season and will not miss anyone on their roster in the month of February unlike the Gophers and Michigan. The Gophers head to Columbus in two weeks for a series that could have major implications.
Bu the Gophers need to get some points this weekend in South Bend first. The Gophers swept Notre Dame back in October in Minneapolis winning 4-1 and 3-2. They hold a four game winning streak in the series after a pair of 3-0 shutouts in South Bend last February. But, the goaltender in all four of those games is no longer on the roster. It’s Justen Close’s time to face the Irish.
Close faired decently well in his first major test against Michigan last weekend allowing just five goals in the series. The bigger problem has been the Gophers offensive attack. Minnesota has scored just nine goals over the last four games and has been effectively shut down by a goaltender twice in the last two weeks on Saturday. The Gophers can’t afford that to happen again this weekend. But it will not be easy. The Irish have a goaltender tandem that is one of the best in the nation. Ryan Bischel and Matthew Galajda both have played well this season with Galajda holding a 10-3 record, a ,929 save percentage and a 1.92 goals against average. Bischel is 7-4, with a .923 save percentage and a 2.05 goals against average. Both played in the series in October against Minnesota with each goalie picking up a loss. It was Notre Dame’s only sweep of the season.
Thus, Minnesota does not want to get into a goalie battle. They need to find a way to put the puck in the net. That starts with the “9-line” of Ben Meyers, Mathew Knies and Chaz Lucius. Meyers leads the Gophers with 25 points and 10 goals on the season. Knies is second in both categories with 23 and 9. Both will play in their last two games for the Gophers until hopefully the season finale as they will be scoring for the red white and blue instead of the maroon and gold. Thus, Minnesota needs to find another line to score. Blake McLaughlin has been great for the Gophers this season, but his linemates in Sammy Walker and Bryce Brodzynski have had a bad talent of disappearing in crunch time at times. The Gophers had hoped a third line would develop into a scoring threat but with the injury to Jaxon Nelson it has not happened. The Gopher not on the top two lines or top two defensive pairs who leads the Gophers in scoring is Mason Nevers who has just 8 points on the season. That will not cut it as Minnesota heads down the final stretch of the Big Ten season.
Minnesota does love to play in this rink. The Gophers have won their last seven games in South Bend sweeping the Irish in 2020 and 2021, and winning three straight in the Big Ten Tournament in this rink last season. Hopefully that comfort level will come through again and help the Gophers garner some critical wins for the Big Ten standings, Pairwise purposes, and just confidence as they enter what will be a very tough stretch of the schedule in February that can either elevate or derail their season.
Both games this weekend will stream on Peacock, NBC’s new streaming service. NBC Sports Network no longer exists, and all of the Notre Dame sports that previously aired on NBCSN have been transferred to Peacock. To watch the games you will need to subscribe to their Premium Tier which costs $4.99 a month. Peacock Premium is available for free to Comcast subscribers as well. For $2.50 a game that’s not a bad price—and as an extra if you subscribe for a full month you will be able to stream all of the Winter Olympic Action on Peacock without a TV log in needed. Thus for just five bucks you can watch the games this weekend, and then follow the Gopher laden US Men’s and Women’s Hockey teams in Beijing as they go for Gold.
HOW TO WATCH:
#10 Minnesota Gophers @ #11 Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Where: Compton Family Ice Arena, South Bend, Indiana
When: 6:30 Friday, 5 PM Saturday
Stream: Peacock Premium
Radio: 1130 AM/103.5 FM/ I Heart Radio