Men’s Hockey to advance to Semifinal

The Gophers came back from a Friday night loss to Notre Dame, winning 3-2 on Saturday to force a game three, where they won 2-1 to keep their postseason alive

Julianna Landis

Minnesota fought back from the brink to save their postseason this past weekend, taking the Notre Dame Fighting Irish to three games to win their quarterfinal series and advance to the semifinal where they will face Penn State on the road. 

GAME ONE

  With the stands deserted because of the State High School Hockey Tournament taking place across the river, the Gophers’ postseason got off to a bit of a subdued start on Friday, and they were quiet on the ice as well. The first period was slow, Minnesota was unable to generate much in the offensive zone and many of the shots they made were blocked by Notre Dame’s defensemen. Coming back for the second period, they had to go to work on the penalty kill after Matt Staudacher was called for contact to the head, a major penalty that gave the Irish a man advantage for five minutes. He was also assessed a game misconduct, and so he did not return to the game following the penalty.  

Trevor Janicke scored the lone goal of the night in the second period as well, putting Notre Dame up 1-0. And while they were down in the second, Jack Lafontaine said they had known what Notre Dame’s style would throw at them in a game, but that they weren’t able to execute in response to their defensive play, “Notre Dame’s very scripted, they’re gonna trap you, they’re gonna nurse a one-goal lead. This is all premeditated, with what they’re doing, so we’ve just gotta get ourselves in the right mindset and know how to better react to that.” Lafontaine said. 

GAME TWO

The loss on Friday put the Gophers’ backs against the wall on Saturday night, it was now a win-or-go-home scenario, and Minnesota wasn’t ready to end their season just yet. Senior Ryan Zuhlsdorf, who had yet to score a goal this season, scored just a minute and a half into the game. The goal got the momentum going for the team, Zuhlsdorf said, “It was nice to just get on the board for the guys and get a little momentum going for us. Certainly a good feeling getting the first one of the year.” Zuhlsdorf said. 

  He also went to battle on the defensive end of the game, doing his part as a defenseman by blocking shots and also had to deal with a high hit that came as he was crossing the blue line into the neutral zone. 

Zuhlsdorf said that while the hit made him angry- and gave him a cut on his chin that would require stitches- it was part of playing in a chippy playoff series. He said that he enjoyed playing that type of hickey and was excited to play again the next night. 

Head coach Bob Motzko praised the play of Zuhlsdorf and the rest of the team’s defense, saying,   ” I thought Zee [Zuhlsdorf] was excellent tonight, and our D overall did a really good job getting into the fight, getting the puck up the rink… I think I could look back at the film and all those guys, aside from the penalty, were really doing a good job for us tonight.” Motzko said.  

 The Gophers’ second goal came from another unlikely source, Cullen Munson. He scored early in the third period with assists from Jonny Sorenson and Joey Marooney to put the Gophers up 2-0. 

Even with a goal from the fighting Irish on the power play later in the third, Minnesota held on to secure the win and force a game three to decide the series. 

GAME THREE

Getting to Sunday was important, but they would have to win again in order to move on, and with an early Notre Dame goal they would have to do what they couldn’t Friday and overcome a Notre Dame lead on the scoreboard. They succeeded, winning 3-1 to win the Quarterfinal series and advance deeper into the postseason. 

They came through in the second period, scoring three unanswered goals. Notably, two of the goals came on the power play, where the gophers have struggled to generate offense as of late. Freshmen Ben Meyers and Sampo Ranta got the fire started for Minnesota, with Ranta scoring less than a minute after Meyers found the back of the net on the power play. 

The power play again had success with Meyers scoring again after a brief huddle with the other Gophers players during a stoppage in play. When asked about the strategy behind the goal, he said that it came just the way they drew it up, with the puck passing from Walker to Reedy, who sent the puck from his position down near the goal up to Meyers, who ripped the puck to the back of the net from the top of the slot. 

The Irish cut the lead to just 3-2 and the rest of the period was nerve-wracking, as Minnesota had to kill off a penalty with just six minutes left to play. In the final minutes the Irish hit goaltender Jack LaFontaine with a barrage of shots, but he stood tall for the Gophers to deliver their trip on to the semifinal. LaFontaine was ecstatic after the game, cheering loudly as he took a lap around the ice after being named Second Star of the Game. It was hard to keep his emotions in check after a game like Sunday, LaFontaine said. “It’s been a long year for us, it’s a great little chapter in what’s been an insane season, in my opinion… This season I’ve tried to keep my emotions under wraps, but it’s hard to stay under wraps after a game like that.” LaFontaine said. 

LaFontaine added that the series was also important for the team to give back to their senior class after they lost 1-2 to Michigan on Senior Night the weekend before, saying, “I think as a team we feel we maybe jibbed them for their Senior Night, there was a little bit of..not guilt, but they deserved better…we wanted to make sure they had a good Mariucci sendoff. All three of them were awesome this weekend.” 

Minnesota will travel to Penn State for a one-game semi-final round of the Big Ten Tournament this Saturday, March 14th.