MINNEAPOLIS -- After all of the strangeness of the Minnesota Gophers’ first dozen games, played on odd nights, in empty rinks, things were supposed to be a bit more normal this time. They were at home, with some fans in the stands, playing on a Friday night, which is traditional in a non-pandemic year.
Instead, it was the most uncharacteristic of evenings for the top-ranked Gophers, who took two leads they could not hold, then looked listless in the final 20 minutes, falling to Notre Dame 3-2 for their first home loss of the season.
The brother act of Landon and Graham Slaggert clicked twice for the Irish, with Landon tying the game in the second period and Graham getting the game-winner with under five minutes to play.
Perhaps the most characteristic thing on this particular evening was a one-goal game with the Irish. In the 13 times coach Bob Motzko’s Gophers teams have faced Notre Dame, 11 of them have been decided by a goal.
The Gophers (11-2-0 overall, 9-2-0-0-0-0 Big Ten) got goals from Jackson LaCombe and Sampo Ranta, and stayed in the game in a third period the Irish completely dominated thanks to the goaltending of Jack LaFontaine, who had 10 of his 24 saves in the final 20 minutes. But on this night it was the Irish who had the final answer.
“Notre Dame was a better hockey team tonight. It’s unfortunate because we had two leads in the game,” Motzko said. “In a few spurts here and there we kind of got going a little bit but their fight and their resolve was harder all night.”
LaCombe scored his first of the season in the opening period to give the Gophers a 1-0 lead. But the Irish answered on a faceoff play in the final minute of the first for a 1-1 deadlock after 20. The Gophers re-took the lead early in the second on a faceoff play of their own, when Jaxon Nelson won a draw and Ranta beat Irish goalie Ryan Bischel cleanly with the shot. But again the advantage was short-lived, as Notre Dame tied it on their first power play of the game.
In the third period, the Irish (6-6-1, 4-4-1-0-1-1) out-shot Minnesota 11-4, getting the go-ahead goal and playing their clogging, frustrating defensive style that kept the Gophers offense at bay.
“They had far more energy. They were winning loose puck battles. They were beating us on faceoffs and we were chasing the puck,” Motzko said.
It was the first time since November that there were fans allowed in 3M Arena at Mariucci, with the new state guidelines capping attendance at 150. This meant a handful of Gophers parents seated between the blue lines, and with eight Minnesotans in uniform for the Irish, a good contingent of Notre Dame parents in attendance as well.
“I guess we’re used to not having fans, but it’s nice to have some people in the stands,” said Ranta, who leads the team with nine goals. “With Friday and Saturday games it seems like it’s back to normal to be honest. We’ve got to come back tomorrow with a lot of energy, a lot of jump and get the job done.”
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The Gophers were without two regulars as forward Scott Reedy missed his second game in a row due to injury, and defenseman Matt Staudacher was also scratched after he had played in his first 59 consecutive games as a collegian. Motzko said that both players are out for the weekend.
“It was definitely different. Staudy’s a key piece to the team and a great guy to have on the bench, so positive and stuff,” said LaCombe. “It definitely was strange, but I’m sure he’ll be back soon."
Bischel, who is from Medina, Minn., and played for the Fargo Force and Benilde-St. Margaret's prior to Notre Dame, had 17 saves in the win.
“We did a good job of managing the puck and we defended well when we had to, so for us it’s a big step,” said Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson. “We’ve been unable to string together a full 60 (minutes) and tonight we did.”
The teams play again Saturday at 5 p.m.
View Jess Myers' post-game comments here.
Notre Dame 1-1-1—3
First period — 1. MIN, Jackson LaCombe 1 (Mike Koster, Jack Perbix), 16:50. 2. UND, Alex Steeves 6 (Graham Slaggert), 19:27. Penalties — Pierce Crawford, UND (elbowing), 7:26.
Second period — 3. MIN, Sampo Ranta 9 (Jaxon Nelson), 1:48. 4. UND, Landon Slaggert 4 (G. Slaggert, Nick Leivermann), 6:23. Penalties — Matt Hellickson, UND (holding), 3:02; Nelson, MIN (holding), 5:11.
Third period — 5. UND, G. Slaggert 4 (L. Slaggert), 15:17. Penalties — None.
Shots on goal — MIN 7-8-4—19; UND 10-6-11—27. Goalies — Jack LaFontaine, MIN (27 shots-24 saves); Ryan Bischel, UND (19-17). Power plays — MIN 0-of-2, UND 1-of-1. Referees — Brian Aaron, Colin Kronforst. Linesmen — Chad Roethlisberger, Johnathan Morrison. Att. — 116.