Gophers men’s hockey sweeps Notre Dame with 3-2 win

Junior Bryce Brodzinski scored his second game-winning goal of the series with 2:15 seconds remaining in the game.

Junior+Jack+Perbix+chases+the+puck+down+the+ice+in+a+game+against+the+University+of+Notre+Dame+on+Friday%2C+Oct.+29%2C+2021+at+3M+Arena+at+Mariucci+in+Minneapolis%2C+Minn.+

Ethan Fine

Junior Jack Perbix chases the puck down the ice in a game against the University of Notre Dame on Friday, Oct. 29, 2021 at 3M Arena at Mariucci in Minneapolis, Minn.

by Michael Lyne , Sports Reporter

The No. 7 Gophers men’s hockey team (5-3) defeated No. 14 Notre Dame 3-2 Saturday evening to complete the sweep in their first Big Ten series this season.

“[It was a] huge weekend for us,” Gophers head coach Bob Motzko said. “We dodged a bullet tonight. I really feel like Jack [LaFontaine] was great…we were able to somehow find a way to get the win. Let’s hope that it’s another step forward for us moving in the right direction.”

Like Friday’s game, the Gophers weathered an early storm of attack from the Fighting Irish in the opening half of the first period. Notre Dame had six shots on goal before Minnesota had one.

However, the Gophers found their footing quicker than on Friday. They had an early power play, which they did not convert on, but they began to build momentum from it. Senior Sammy Walker fired a shot from the top of the left circle, but the puck connected with the left post.

Junior Jackson LaCombe fired a shot from the blue line, the puck bounced off the back wall back out in front of the net, and senior Grant Cruikshank was in the right place at the right time, burying the puck home to give Minnesota a 1-0 lead 11:25 seconds into the first period.

Cruikshank’s go-ahead tally marks his second goal this season, but he remained out the rest of the game with an injury. LaCombe recorded his second assist on the goal, while freshman Rhett Pitlick collected his first collegiate point with the secondary assist.

With under three minutes to go in the first, LaCombe took a hooking penalty in front of the Gophers’ goal to help prevent a high-quality scoring chance. Then, their penalty kill units went to work and killed off Notre Dame’s man-advantage.

For almost the entire second period, neither team had many high-quality scoring opportunities. And yet again, the Gophers’ stingy penalty kill units killed off two more Notre Dame power plays.

Just as the second period winded down, Notre Dame got themselves on the scoreboard with 1.7 seconds remaining as Grant Silianoff fired a loose puck in front of the Gophers’ goal into the back of the net to tie the game at 1-1 after Minnesota turned the puck over in the neutral zone.
“What we did in the second period, we got to learn that lesson,” Motzko said. “Two horrendous penalties, a turnover, a terrible offsides, just things that in big games where it’s going to lead you to lose hockey games.”

The third period saw a lot more action than the first or second as junior Jonny Sorenson put the Gophers ahead 2-1 just 2:27 seconds into the final frame. He picked up a loose puck in the neutral zone, skated his way to a breakaway, and fired a nifty backhand shot into the upper right half of the net to score his first goal this season.

“He was [Sorenson] good all weekend,” Motzko said. “Using his speed, tenacity, winning battles, [it was] only fitting that he came up with a big-time goal. He’s capable of doing that so it was great to see.“

However, the Gophers’ lead did not last for more than a minute. Notre Dame came right back to tie the game after Solag Bakich finished a tic-tac-toe passing play to beat graduate student goaltender Jack LaFontaine just 29 seconds after Sorenson’s go-ahead goal.

After that, Notre Dame started gaining momentum. Then, the Gophers weathered another frenzy of attack. At around the halfway point of the third period, the Fighting Irish took 10 consecutive shots, with five of them on-net, over the span of 2:12 seconds.

The Gophers had to battle their way out of Notre Dame’s storm for much of the period, but they began to find more offensive zone time in the last seven minutes.

As the Gophers controlled the puck in the offensive zone, sophomore Brock Faber fed a drop pass to senior Blake McLaughlin at the half wall.

McLaughlin then skated the puck toward the middle at the top of the blue line, spun around, and sent a pass to junior Bryce Brodzinski at the top of the circle. Brodzinksi received the pass and fired a shot that snuck its way in to give the Gophers a late 3-2 lead with 2:15 seconds remaining in the game.

Brodzinski’s go-ahead tally marks his second game-winning goal of the series and his team-leading sixth goal this season. It also marks Faber’s fourth assist and McLaughlin’s ninth, which is also a team-high.

The Gophers held on en route to a huge bounce back weekend and sweep of Notre Dame in their first Big Ten series this season. Their penalty kill went a perfect six for six this weekend.
“It’s got to be a big part of our game this year,” Sorenson said on their penalty kill. “This weekend proved how big it can be. We let one of those in, two of those in, the games go the other way…I think we proved we have a pretty good penalty kill.”

LaFontaine made 26 saves with a .929 save percentage in the win as Notre Dame outshot the Gophers 28-24.

“It was huge, especially against a team like that,” LaFontaine said on starting off Big Ten play with a sweep. “They’re hardworking, they’re always going to play strong defense, they always have good goalies…but again, those two wins are going to go a long way and I know we can be a lot better so it’s exciting to see where this team is going to go.”

The Gophers will travel to Madison, Wis., next weekend to take on Wisconsin in their second Big Ten series this season on Friday, Nov. 5, at 7 p.m. and on Saturday, Nov. 6, at 8 p.m.