Following two wins last weekend over Air Force and Boston College, the Gophers became the top team in the nation, a title they looked deserving of against Notre Dame.
Minnesota jumped on the Irish early with a sharp wrister by Nate Condon that shot over the shoulder of Notre Dame netminder Steven Summerhays. Scoring quickly was a key part of the game plan for the Maroon and Gold.
“Before the game, Coach showed us the stats that we haven’t yet when we’ve scored first so it was important for us to come out and score an early goal,” said Condon.
The Gophers looked dominant in the opening session, beating the Irish to pucks and keeping possession in the opposing end. The quick start paid off again as sophomore forward Sam Warning hammered home a rebound to give the Gophers a two-goal lead just 7:29 into the first period.
Notre Dame’s last game came nearly a month ago on December 15 against Bowling Green. The long layoff proved to be critical as Minnesota took the 2-0 lead.
“[Notre Dame] hadn’t played since before Christmas and that was our advantage in the first ten minutes,” said Don Lucia. “That was important part of the game. We scored a couple goals and played with the lead.”
Notre Dame head coach Jeff Jackson also noticed the impact of his team’s lengthy holiday break.
“We started off a little slow,” he said. “That first period was the difference in the game.”
The Irish founds their legs and responded with a goal off the stick of Jeff Costello at 14:31 of the first to make the score 2-1.
With just a one-goal lead and the momentum shifting towards the Irish, Christian Isackson scored his third of the year on a great move in front, beating Summerhays after a lengthy forecheck by A.J. Michaelson.
“[Michaelson] made a nice play and Isackson did the rest,” said Lucia.
With another two-goal lead, Minnesota was able to stifle the Irish’ offensive attack, thanks in large part to Adam Wilcox who made a number of impressive saves, including a breakaway try by Bryan Rust in the third period.
“I don’t think [Wilcox] had a lot of saves tonight but it’s that key one,” said Lucia. “The guy comes in all alone and he makes the save. That’s what he’s been able to do for us is make that critical save in that important juncture in the game.”
Minnesota would tack on an empty net goal by Zach Budish to make the score 4-1, helping to seal an important victory for the Gophers.
With the win, the Gophers are now a perfect 8-0 in nonconference games but face a difficult road in the remainder of the WCHA schedule which starts with a home series against Alaska-Anchorage this coming weekend.
“With the last two games, [beating] Boston College and Notre Dame, two really high quality wins, that’s going to help us at the end,” said Lucia. “We’ve got a very difficult league schedule in the second half if you look at who we have to play. We have a short week of preparation for Alaska-Anchorage and we have to make sure that we come focused and ready to go on Friday and Saturday night.”