Gophers men’s hockey sweeps Irish with LaFontaine’s back-to-back shutouts

Minnesota returned to form on the road with a pair of 3-0 wins over Notre Dame, goalie Jack LaFontaine tallied his fifth shutout of the season.

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Audrey Rauth

Minnesota’s goalie Jack LaFontaine blocks an attempted goal from Notre Dame’s Graham Slaggert on Saturday, Jan. 16 at the 3M arena at Marriucci.

Julianna Landis

Gophers bounce back with shutout Friday

Rebounding from the ego hit of last weekend’s losses to Wisconsin, the Gophers men’s hockey team executed where it needed to and kept Notre Dame at bay for a 3-0 shutout victory.

Captain Sammy Walker showed up big on the scoresheet Friday night, netting the first goal of the night and passing off the puck to Blake McLaughlin to give him the empty net goal in the final seconds of the third period.

Walker said scoring that first goal after the offensive struggles the team had last week was nice, but was also an important leg up over Notre Dame.

“It always feels good to score a goal, but to get an early goal against this team, I think, is huge,” he said.

His first goal was scored on the powerplay, and goalie Jack LaFontaine picked up a secondary assist along with defenseman Jackson LaCombe.

A defensive breakdown from Notre Dame made the Gophers’ second goal of the night possible. Two Irish players collided at the faceoff dots in their own zone, freeing up Brannon McManus, whose shot from up high was tipped in by Sampo Ranta.

In the second period, Jaxon Nelson was called for his second major penalty and game misconduct in two games, this time for contact to the head on Notre Dame’s Solag Bakich after clipping him with his shoulder in open ice.

While he felt the penalty should not have been a major because Nelson connected to Bakich’s shoulder first, Gophers’ head coach Bob Motzko said Nelson needed to be more aware of his tall frame on the ice.

“Nelly’s just a big kid, I mean he’s 6’5”. They were hockey plays, he was never targeting any player in either hit. … He has to be aware of his size, especially in open ice like that,” Motzko said.

Overall, Motzko was pleased with how his team played, calling the win one of their most complete games of the season.

Gophers tally second shutout Saturday, win again 3-0

Saturday night’s 3-0 win over Notre Dame brought the Gophers their eighth sweep this season and was the first time since 2011 Minnesota left their opponent scoreless in back-to-back games.

The energy in the game was slow to start but reached a boiling point in the final minute with a scuffle breaking out between players after a hit by Notre Dame’s Ryder Rolston on Walker in front of the Minnesota bench.

Ranta scored his14th goal of the season in the third period with assists from Scott Reedy and McManus. The trio crisscrossed past Notre Dame’s defense to settle the final score at 3-0.

Minnesota jumped to a quick two-goal lead in the second after a quiet opening period. The team’s lead – along with McLaughlin’s streak of scoring in Notre Dame’s building – could have been extended by one more, but an offsides review called back the goal.

Two goals that counted were cashed in by McManus and Nathan Burke. Ranta assisted on McManus’ goal, passing between his legs while his back was turned to his linemate.

Burke scored unassisted after a turnover by Notre Dame left him unguarded in front. The goal was the third Burke has scored this season.

In a post-game interview, Motzko said LaFontaine was at his best in net.

“We’ve seen Jack on top of his game for the better part of almost a year and a half now… He just looks so calm too… nothing was rattled,” Motzko said. “That’s when you know a goalie is dialed in – nothing looks hard, everything looked easy for him.”