Notre Dame drops series to Minnesota-Duluth at home in championship rematch
Connor Mulvena | Monday, October 29, 2018
In a rematch of last season’s national championship, this time on No. 1 Notre Dame’s home ice, the Irish fell twice to the Bulldogs of No. 3 Minnesota-Duluth in what was a notably physical series.
On Friday night, in Notre Dame’s home opener, the Irish (3-2-1) got off to a slow start, but so did the Bulldogs. Neither squads managed to slot one in the first period, and the game moved into the second at 0-0. Then, roughly four minutes into the second period, Minnesota-Duluth (6-1-1) drew first blood. But Notre Dame was quick to respond, as junior defenseman and captain Andrew Peeke scored his first goal of the season on a power play. Shortly after Peeke’s goal, sophomore forward Colin Theisen put the Irish up one with his third goal of the season.
Despite holding a one-goal lead heading into the third, the Irish were unable to hold off Duluth’s comeback efforts. A little more than 12 minutes into the final frame, Duluth tied the game, and the Bulldogs went on to claim the lead with 3:55 left to play in the game. Junior goaltender Cale Morris stopped 36 of 39 shots on the night, and the Irish went 1-3 on the power play during the loss.
The Irish hoped to turn things around on Saturday and head out of the series against last season’s national champion even. But on a night when Notre Dame was 0-6 on the power play, Duluth managed to sneak out of South Bend with a second victory.
The Bulldogs were the first to get on the board in the second matchup, as sophomore forward Kobe Roth slotted one from the right side with a little over 11 minutes to play in the first period. Later on in the first, the Irish had a genuine opportunity to tie it up as a power play afforded them a 4-on-3 opportunity. The Irish put several shots on goal, but were unable to even the contest heading into the second period.
Duluth was quick to extend its lead, as the Bulldogs scored a little over two minutes into the second period. Despite several power-play opportunities, the Irish failed to cut into the lead and headed into the locker room down two goals before the final frame. While a slap shot goal from senior defenseman Bobby Nardella gave the Irish a glimmer of hope in the third period, the Bulldogs cemented their victory when Jackson Cates scored a power play goal with just under nine minutes left to play. Duluth won the final game of the series 3-1.
Irish head coach Jeff Jackson was disappointed in the two losses, but said he ultimately saw improvement in his squad over the weekend.
“Any time you lose two at home it’s disappointing, you know,” Jackson said. “I certainly respect the level of competition we were playing and making that statement. But, you know, I think I’ve told you guys this before, this is going to be a work in progress. And I think, you know, there was probably a lot of false confidence coming out of the last weekend. You know, because last weekend, the goaltending the second night for them [Nebraska-Omaha] was not very good. You know, I think even our confidence was a little higher than it should have been.”
Jackson said this “false confidence” might have also come from the team’s No. 1 ranking, while those rankings are always in flux at the beginning of a season.
“Being ranked No. 1, I just kind of raise my eyebrows, you know, this time of the year. But Duluth is a great team,” he said. “They’re potentially the best team in the country, and they played that way for two-straight games. I thought we were better tonight [Saturday]. I thought we did a much better job with the puck. [On Friday night] we caused ourselves a lot of problems by turning the puck over. The score, [Friday night], it was not indicative of the game, in my opinion. [Saturday night’s] score was probably a little more indicative — the power play could have made that game interesting for us, but they struggled tonight.”
Jackson was especially pleased with the performance of some of the younger guys on the squad, and he stressed the need for consistency moving forward.
“The freshman line did a really nice job tonight playing in a second-line goal,” he said. “You know, and the young defensemen are coming around, too. I think they have their mistakes that they made, but so do our upperclassmen. So for the most part, you know, I think that my biggest concern will be depth scoring, and I knew that going into the season and I think we’re starting to see that a little bit now. The game against Providence was probably our best game as far as how we have to play, and I think [Saturday night] might have been our second-best game. I thought last weekend, regardless of the scores, I thought we played well at times, but we need to learn how to play at a high level consistently.”
After a discouraging series, Jackson said it is important the squad moves on and learns from a team like Minnesota-Duluth.
“You know, we’ve got to recover,” he said. “I think that you play these teams for a reason, and hopefully you learn from them. We could learn some interesting things from Duluth and the we way they play the game. I’m hoping that guys are energized to come in and have a good week of practice. So this whole first half is going to be about one step at a time, the process. Our young guys I thought did pretty well tonight. Our older guys got frustrated a little bit, because they’re accustomed to having success.”