MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota’s defensemen got offensive Sunday against Notre Dame.
The Gophers scored four times in their 4-2 win over the Fighting Irish in the series finale at Mariucci Arena. Two of those four goals came off the stick of a Minnesota defenseman. Mike Reilly was credited with the game-winner, while Michael Brodzinski’s first goal of the year helped thwart a potential Notre Dame rally.
Minnesota prides itself on having a balanced scoring attack. On Sunday, that scoring came from the blue line.
"We did a better job of not turning pucks over entering the line, so you have a chance to spend some more time (in the zone)," Gophers head coach Don Lucia said. "We have guys that have the ability back there. We weren’t using them enough and weren’t getting enough pucks through."
The Gophers indeed got the pucks through Sunday. After Sam Warning and Hudson Fasching scored earlier in the first period to give Minnesota a 2-0 lead, it was Reilly’s turn to step up into the action and get on the board.
With Minnesota on the power play, the Gophers’ All-American defenseman fired a shot from the point that found its way through traffic and past Irish goalie Cal Petersen to push the lead to 3-0. It was Reilly’s second goal of the season — the other came just one game earlier in the series opener.
"Guys are just buying into the system. We’re clicking on all cylinders to produce goals and to produce offense," Reilly said. "Coach (Mike) Guentzel said the D had no goals going into this weekend besides (Brady) Skjei’s empty-netter. We’ve been working a lot on defensive shooting from the blue line and making sure we’re getting pucks to the net. . . . It was great to get that first one. Hopefully it keeps going from there."
The Gophers led 3-0 after one period, which caused Notre Dame to pull Petersen in favor of Chad Katunar. Irish defenseman Robby Russo put Notre Dame on the board with a goal midway through the second, but Minnesota answered right back.
Fittingly enough, it was another goal from a blue liner. This time Brodzinski’s seeing-eye shot from the point weaved its way past a few skaters to beat Katunar for his first goal of the year.
"I think the big emphasis this weekend was for the defense just to join the rush and be the fourth man in and get the puck and get some shots on net," Brodzinski said. "I think that really played a big factor in our games this weekend."
Despite the fast start and early 3-0 lead, the Gophers saw some pushback from Notre Dame. Minnesota goalie Adam Wilcox saw just three shots in the first period but had 11 shots fired his way in the second. Two of those got past him as Russo and Austin Wuthrich recorded goals for the Irish.
"I think we got too relaxed," Brodzinski said. "We had a three-goal lead. The game’s never over, especially after the first period. They came out hard. They really took it to us for the first 10, 15 minutes there."
Minnesota’s second line of Warning, Justin Kloos and Taylor Cammarata had a hand in all four goals Sunday. Kloos and Cammarata both assisted on Warning’s goal 29 seconds into the game, while Cammarata also had helpers on the goals by Fasching and Reilly. Meanwhile, Warning and Kloos both had assists on Brodzinski’s second-period tally.
In total, each player from the second line finished with at least two points, while Cammarata added three to bring his season total to 11 in eight games.
"Goals early in the period really get me going throughout the game," Cammarata said. "I’ve got a couple points the first few shifts the last couple games, so that’s got me going."
For Warning, his goal was the second he had scored in as many games. The season is still just eight games old, but Minnesota’s second line seems to be firing on all cylinders.
"They skate so well and they can make plays," Lucia said of the second line. "I thought Sam was on this weekend where you could really see his speed and playmaking. He comes out and makes a beautiful shot on the very first shot of the game. It just kind of set the tone. That’s how that line played all weekend."