Irish earn road sweep of top-ranked Gophers
Nate Moller | Monday, January 18, 2021
The Notre Dame hockey team (7-6-1, 5-3-1-1 B1G) looked arguably the best it has all season this past weekend, sweeping the top-ranked Minnesota Gophers (11-3, 9-3-0-0 B1G) on the road in Minneapolis.
The Irish won the first game 3-2 behind one goal and two assists from junior forward Graham Slaggert.
Head coach Jeff Jackson discussed the solid play of Slaggert and the support he received from the other players on his line. Slaggert’s brother, freshman forward Landon Slaggert, finished the night with a goal and an assist as well.
“I’m really pleased in the way [Graham has] played so far this season,” Jackson said. “We’ve been trying to find the right combination of people this year, and I think that [Graham has] been playing pretty well. With his brother coming back from [the junior national tournament] and Alex Steeves getting his game back, I think that line with all three of them collectively is really good. One night, hopefully it’s one guy, and then another night you hope it’s another guy.”
The first game was back and forth for the most part, with Minnesota taking a first period lead after a shot from freshman defender Jackson LaCombe found the upper right corner of the net.
The Irish responded quickly, however, as junior winger Alex Steeves scored after a faceoff to tie the game at the end of the first period. He was assisted by Graham Slaggert.
The second period started off poorly for the Irish. Less than two minutes into the period, junior winger Sampo Ranta put the Gophers back in front after a faceoff. Then seconds later, a holding penalty was called on Irish senior defenseman Matt Hellickson.
The Irish though were able to kill the penalty and earn a power play of their own seconds later. This advantage led to a goal from Landon Slaggert, his fourth of the season, which tied the score at two.
The Irish came out firing in the third period, putting heavy pressure on Minnesota goaltender Jack LaFontaine. There were multiple saves made by LaFontaine, and the score remained 2-2 ten minutes into the third period.
The Irish finally broke the tie with just over four minutes to go with another tandem goal from the Slaggert brothers. This time it was Graham Slaggert who scored with Landon on the assist.
Head coach Jeff Jackson was pleased with the complete game that the Irish put together on Friday night.
“I thought we played a good 60-minute hockey game. [On] pretty much every aspect of the game, I thought we did a nice job, and it was good to see,” Jackson explained. “We put together a power play goal, a penalty kill, and a faceoff goal. I thought that we did a good job of managing the puck, and we defended well when we had to. For us, it is a big step because we have been unable to string together a full sixty, and tonight we did.”
The Irish were also the better team Saturday night, as they beat the top-ranked Gophers for the second night in a row by a score of 2-1.
The Irish drew first blood in game two early on, with sophomore forward Solag Bakich hitting the back of the net 1:54 into the game. Bakich was assisted by junior forward Michael Graham.
A few minutes later, the Gophers got a power play after a slashing penalty on freshman defenseman Jake Boltmann. The Irish were able to draw a penalty of their own seconds later, though, and force a four-on-four for nearly two minutes. Neither team was able to take advantage of fewer men on the ice, however, with both defenses holding strong.
The Irish continued to dominate for the next ten minutes until sophomore forward Max Ellis got sent to the penalty box with a roughing penalty. The Gophers were able to put together a string of shots, but Irish senior goaltender Dylan St. Cyr was able to make some big saves and preserve a 1-0 Irish lead after the first period.
The Gophers came out of the gate strong in the second half, putting constant pressure on St. Cyr and the Irish defense. Roughly four minutes into the period, the teams played four-on-four again, and St. Cyr had to make multiple saves after near disastrous mistakes by the Irish in their own zone.
The Irish were able to turn it around, however, and got a power play with just under 12 minutes to go into the second period. This led to a goal from Max Ellis 10:37 into the period to give the Irish a two goal advantage. Ellis was assisted by junior defenseman Spencer Stastney and sophomore winger Trevor Janicke.
The Irish made some big mistakes after the goal, committing three penalties within a span of ten minutes. The Irish managed to stave off all three power plays, though, maintaining their 2-0 lead at the end of the second period.
Jackson praised his team for their penalty kills and power play game on Saturday.
“We spent a lot of time on special teams last week,” Jackson said. “Fifty percent of the time we spent practicing special teams twice a day for two straight days, and it showed. We needed to do a better job in those situations, both on the power play and the penalty kill. The big thing was both nights the goaltending was the difference in the penalty kill too. I thought our defensemen and the forwards we used on the penalty kill did a great job against very good power play.”
Jackson was pleased with his team’s ability to overcome the difficulties faced in the second period.
“We had a little bit of a tough second period with the penalties and the momentum changed, but we responded and that’s the most important thing,” Jackson said.
In the third period, the Gophers continued to create opportunities, but the Irish were able to fend off their attack for the majority of the period. The Gophers were finally able to get on the board with 2:21 to go in the game, but at that point it was too late with the Irish hanging on to win 2-1 and earning a series sweep of the top-ranked Gophers.
The Irish are now 4-0 on the road this year, and Jackson hopes that his team can play that well at home in the future because the Irish currently have an abysmal 3-6-1 record on their home ice.
“The big thing for us is that we need to play like this at home,” Jackson said. “We need to find a way to play with the same disciple and energy when we play in our building. We just need to take care of business on special teams and get good goaltending.”
The wins this weekend over Minnesota were the first wins for the Irish against the top-ranked team since beating Boston College 2-1 in overtime in 2014.
The Irish will be back in action against No. 9 Michigan next Thursday and Friday at the Compton Family Ice Arena.