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Hockey

Irish to host Golden Gophers

| Friday, November 6, 2015

The Irish return to campus this weekend to build on their budding rivalry with Minnesota in a pair of games Friday and Saturday.

Coming off a sweep of Hockey East rival Connecticut, No. 18 Notre Dame (3-1-2, 2-0-0 Hockey East) welcomes the Golden Gophers (2-3-0, 0-0-0 Big Ten), a team it has played annually in recent years and one that shares more than hockey with the Irish.

Notre Dame senior left wing Mario Lucia will skate against father Don Lucia’s Minnesota team for the fourth consecutive year. The elder Lucia, a Notre Dame graduate who played under former head coach Lefty Smith from 1977 to 1981, is in his 17th year as Minnesota head coach.

Senior left wing Mario Lucia fights for the puck during a 3-3 tie against Connecticut on Jan. 16 at Compton Family Ice Arena.Caitlyn Jordan | The Observer

Senior left wing Mario Lucia fights for the puck during a 3-3 tie against Connecticut on Jan. 16 at Compton Family Ice Arena.

Though Minnesota is off to an uncharacteristically slow start, Irish head coach Jeff Jackson understands the type of challenge that this weekend’s games will pose to his team.

“Minnesota’s a team that started off a little slow, but they’re a very skilled and fast team,” Jackson said. “They’re not as veteran-oriented as they’ve been in the past, but they’re still the same type of team. They’re gonna be very dangerous offensively, and they do a lot of things with their speed.

“It’ll be a big challenge for us this weekend. They took apart Northeastern pretty good last week, and they’ve had a week off, so I’m sure coach Lucia was pre-scouting us this weekend, under the guise of being a dad.”

Though the Golden Gophers will be coming off the schedule in the future to make room for other obligations, Jackson recognizes the importance of playing quality programs like the one at Minnesota.

“You develop rivalries with teams,” Jackson said. “If they’re a good team and you’re a good team and you play them on a regular basis, you develop these kinds of rivalries. Minnesota, even though we’re not in the same conference, they got up big for us last year, and they hammered us. And our guys, generally, when we play them, it’s a big game for them. For us, hopefully with a year under our belts after what happened last year, we’ll be prepared for a team that can skate with us, make plays, and they’re gonna be a really good test for us.”

As Jackson mentioned, the Irish dropped a pair of games in Minneapolis early last November, losing 5-0 and 4-2 to the then-No. 1 Gophers.

Sophomore goaltender Cal Petersen, who was named Hockey East Defensive Player of the Week on Monday for his strong performances against Connecticut, said he remembers facing Minnesota a year ago and hopes to build off that experience this weekend.

“I got a pretty good taste of [Minnesota] last year, in my first road game,” Petersen said. “It was a hard place for me to start, facing the No. 1 team and also one of the harder places to play. I think it was a big growing moment for me, whereas there I was young and maybe a little overwhelmed by who we were playing and the atmosphere — I think as the season progressed I was able to play in other big buildings and be successful. It was a huge learning point for me, and our whole team was thrown into the fire a little bit there, but I think the way that it’s progressed from there I’m glad that we went through it as a team and I went through it personally. It was huge for individual growth.”

As for the Lucia connection, Jackson made it clear that the rivalry is a friendly one and a series he looks forward to.

“[Our relationship] is very positive. Don and I have always gotten along, been friends,” Jackson said. “I don’t think he would have let Mario come here if he didn’t trust me or have respect for this university. I get a kick out the fact that, anytime we get a Minnesota kid, if we’re in competition with them, I think they say, ‘Oh, they’re too defensive,’ and I keep on saying, ‘Well, do you think Mario Lucia would be here if we were too defensive?’”

At the end of the day, this weekend’s games will be a strong early-season test against one of college hockey’s blue-blood programs. Coming off a pair of victories over a conference opponent on the road, the Irish will look to build a winning streak in the early stages of a long season.

The puck drops at 7:35 p.m. Friday and again at 6:40 p.m. Saturday. Both games will be at Compton Family Ice Arena.

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