Gophers men’s hockey ready to face Notre Dame after loss

Minnesota’s six-game win streak was snapped last weekend.

Gophers Forward Jaxon Nelson follows the puck after a goal attempt at the 3M Arena at Marriucci on Friday, Feb. 7, 2020. Gophers won against Michigan State 4-1.

Emily Urfer

Gophers Forward Jaxon Nelson follows the puck after a goal attempt at the 3M Arena at Marriucci on Friday, Feb. 7, 2020. Gophers won against Michigan State 4-1.

by Julianna Landis

After losing to Michigan State on Saturday, and with it their six-game winning streak, the Gophers men’s hockey team isn’t worried about a late-season stumble.  

They’ve handled the loss well, and it feels more like a bump in the road as they continue to improve, not a sign they’re slipping back into the old habits they showed in beginning of the season. 

That’s the hope at least. 

The team returned with a business-like attitude, high-tempo practices and with special attention to quick transition plays ahead of another tough weekend of games. 

“I think we’re in good spirits,” senior captain Tyler Nanne said. “You can’t dwell on the losses, we had something good going there for a few weeks, and we still have a great second half of the season.”

One challenge in facing Notre Dame, the Gophers’ weekend opponent, is the physical differences in Notre Dame’s rink and 3M Arena at Mariucci. Unlike Minnesota’s Olympic-sized ice sheet, which is 197 feet by 98.4 feet, the Fighting Irish play on an NHL-sized rink, which is significantly more narrow at 200 feet by 85 feet. 

The smaller rink makes it even tougher to get past Notre Dame’s shut-down style and will most likely force Minnesota to chip more pucks to try and get past the neutral zone trap, said forward Blake McLaughlin. 

Returning to South Bend, Indiana, where the Gophers’ season came to an end last year in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals, is complicated emotionally for McLaughlin. 

“For me personally, it’s [a] love-hate situation. I lost a great group of seniors the last time I went there, so kinda looking to put it back in their faces for making me lose a couple of my great friends,” he said.  

The two teams met once earlier this season in early November. The Gophers came away with a tie and a loss, but head coach Bob Motzko said the focus is less on what Notre Dame is doing or did in its last meeting, but on what the Gophers can work on to improve.

Minnesota let in two goals while on the penalty kill last weekend and with Notre Dame scoring 16 goals in their last two series, special teams are something the team has been paying attention to, Motzko said. 

For Nanne, the team’s response to the loss shows it was just a misstep as they continue to improve themselves in the second half of the season. Practices this week were good, he said, with the team showing up with the right attitude and demonstrating a strong work ethic.

Currently in a three-way tie for second, Minnesota sits just two points behind first place Penn State in the Big Ten standings. Another good weekend is vital for the Gophers as the following week they travel to University Park, Pennsylvania, to play the Nittany Lions. 

“I think we’ve grown immensely as a team and we’re happy with our progress, but we’re not done yet,” Nanne said.