For the second straight game, the nation’s No. 1 team took the ice at Mariucci Arena — only Tuesday night it was the top-ranked Gophers.
Minnesota beat No. 2 Notre Dame 4-1 to back up its ranking, which it gained after beating Boston College 8-1 in late December.
“It proved that everyone came back from break ready to play,” Nate Condon said. “That little off-stretch seemed to help us a lot, and everyone’s coming back and playing their A-game.”
The game featured Gophers head coach Don Lucia coaching against his son Mario, who is a winger for Notre Dame.
The father Lucia said he didn’t really fixate on his son throughout the game. When asked how Mario looked he said, “I don’t know, I’ll have to watch the tape.”
Condon wasted very little time getting the Gophers off to a fast start. The junior sent a laser past Notre Dame goaltender Steven Summerhays at the 1:41 mark of the first period.
Condon replace the injured Erik Haula as the team’s second-line center.
“I grew up playing center, so it’s kind of natural for me to play it,” Condon said. “You can use a lot more speed at center.”
Sam Warning gave Minnesota a 2-0 lead six minutes later after a Gophers power play expired.
But the Irish fought back. In the second half of the first period, Notre Dame tried to place multiple bodies in front of Gophers goalie Adam Wilcox. With five minutes left in the period, that approach paid off when Jeff Costello hammered home a rebound to cut the lead to 2-1.
Notre Dame’s offensive momentum died after the first period, however.
The highlight of the second period came on Christian Isackson’s third goal of the season. The sophomore took a pass from A.J. Michaelson and showed some great patience and moves before deking Summerhays and beating him.
“Notre Dame didn’t give us that many opportunities, so we needed to execute when we could,” Condon said.
Minnesota opened the third period with a 3-1 lead and an 18-15 advantage in shots, and it held by playing patiently.
“We knew we had to play a patient game. I don’t think we gave up a whole lot defensively tonight,” Lucia said. “By having that early lead, it just allowed us to play more patiently.”
The third period featured only a couple of highlight plays — Wilcox made a big save on a breakaway and Zach Budish found the empty net near the end of the period.
“I don’t think [Wilcox] had a lot of saves tonight, but it’s that key one.” Lucia said. “That’s what he’s been able to do for us — when we do have a breakdown, he’s there to make the critical save.”
Minnesota’s power play, which was key in its win over Boston College, regressed in Tuesday’s game.
“We still have to make some adjustments on the power play — that’s a big thing for me,” Lucia said. “I though our power play was very disjointed tonight.”
Lucia won his 600th game as a college head coach earlier this season, but he was honored by the school before Tuesday’s game because so many family members were in town.
“I didn’t know that they were going to do that and I didn’t want to do it,” Lucia said. “Then I got grief from my wife. … It was nice, it turned out great.”
Minnesota will host Alaska-Anchorage this weekend at Mariucci Arena for its first conference series of 2013.
After entertaining the conference’s cellar dweller, the Gophers will face tougher opponents in North Dakota, Minnesota State-Mankato and St. Cloud State.