Gophers pounce on Irish early in decisive win
MINNEAPOLIS — Even the Gophers were surprised at the outcome of last weekend's game against then-No. 1 Boston College. The Minnesota men's hockey team routed the Eagles 8-1 at Mariucci Arena in a battle of the nation's top two teams.
Nine days later, there was another meeting of No. 1 and No. 2 — only this time the Gophers were the top-ranked team. And with a 4-1 win on an unusual Tuesday night game over visiting Notre Dame, Minnesota showed that the lopsided win over Boston College was no fluke as the Gophers once again played like the best team in college hockey.
"I just think it proved that everyone came back from break ready to play," said Gophers forward Nate Condon, who scored the game's first goal just 1:21 into the first period. "Everyone's coming back playing their A-game right now."
There was plenty of hype surrounding Minnesota's game against Boston College. Not only were the Eagles ranked No. 1 in the country, but they were also the team that knocked the Gophers out of the NCAA playoffs a year ago.
Tuesday's contest had a similar feel. The No. 1 vs. No. 2 angle was a big part of it, but it was also a rematch of last year's Hall of Fame Game, which Notre Dame won 4-3.
"The big talk for us mostly was that we lost to Notre Dame last year and we lost to BC last year," Condon said. "The main thing is just redeeming all the games last year that we gave up."
Notre Dame looked the part of a team that hadn't played since Dec. 15. The winter break meant the Irish had a layoff of nearly a month before playing Minnesota, which played two games since Christmas prior to hosting Notre Dame.
It showed Tuesday, as the Fighting Irish were sluggish out of the gates. Standout goaltender Steven Summerhays, one of the nation's top goalies, gave up a goal just 1:21 into the opening period. The three goals he allowed were a season high.
"We started off a little slow. It looked like we'd been off for a month," said Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson. "That first period was the difference in the game."
After Condon's first-period goal, it was Sam Warning putting Minnesota up 2-0 when he found a loose puck and buried it past Summerhays. Notre Dame's Jeff Costello closed the gap with a goal late in the first, but Minnesota's lead never seemed in serious jeopardy.
Gophers right wing Christian Isackson made sure of that when he took a pass from A.J. Micaelson, made a nice move by Summerhays and buried a backhander for Minnesota's third goal of the night. It marked just the fourth time all year that Notre Dame allowed three goals. Zach Budish's empty netter in the game's final seconds made it a season-high four goals allowed by the second-ranked Irish.
"We got to three and I figured that was going to be critical," said Gophers head coach Don Lucia. "Could we score a few five on five goals? We were able to do that tonight."
As a result, Minnesota asserted itself as the clear No. 1 team in the nation. Between Tuesday's 4-1 win over Notre Dame and the 8-1 drubbing of Boston College, the Gophers have now beaten two Top 2 teams by a combined 12-2 over their last two games.
"They're a good team," Jackson said of the Gophers. "It would have been nice if we could have scheduled an exhibition game before playing Minnesota. Credit to them. They played well."
A family affair at Mariucci: Making Tuesday's game extra special for Lucia was the fact that his son, Mario, was playing in it. Mario Lucia is a freshman forward on Notre Dame and recently played for Team USA in the World Juniors in Ufa, Russia.
But the younger Lucia played Tuesday despite traveling around the world just a few days earlier. Don Lucia insisted he didn't pay too much attention to where his son was on the ice.
"To be honest, it's flashes here and there, but I was zoned in on making sure we had the right line matchups," Don Lucia said.
Mario Lucia finished minus-3 with one shot on goal for the Irish. Freshmen weren't available for interviews after the game, but Don Lucia noted that it was nice to have his son home for a few days.
And it was clear Lucia wasn't playing favorites Tuesday, as his son took several hits during his first shift of the game.
"I didn't notice that. Hey, that's good," Lucia said. "Maybe they had something on the board for him, I don't know."
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