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Hockey is a game of momentum and the Minnesota Golden Gophers presently have none.
Minnesota (15-7-1, 11-3-0 WCHA) dropped their second consecutive game, losing to Notre Dame (13-6-3, 8-3-3-0 CCHA) 4-3 Saturday night. Riley Sheehan led the Fighting Irish with 2 goals and an assist as an abysmal first period and sloppy play through portions of the game put the game out of reach despite a late Minnesota comeback.
The team is 6-6-1 since sweeping North Dakota November 4-5 and face a tough challenge next weekend against the same North Dakota team in Grand Forks.
An important key for the Gophers this season has been getting out to a fast start and setting the pace. While they showed signs of coming out strong in the first couple minutes, things changed for the worse when Notre Dame's Nick Larson (unrelated to the Minnesota player with the same name) picked up a five minute major and game misconduct for checking Kyle Rau from behind; one of three penalties the freshman drew tonight.
What should have been a golden opportunity for the Gophers instead gave the Fighting Irish momentum as they failed to get any offensive chances throughout the major.
"We didn't come out and play well in the first ten minutes," said sophomore forward Nick Bjugstad. "Our coaches always stress it."
It was a point head coach Don Lucia beat into his players for 15 minutes after the game. However, Notre Dame continued dominating play on the ice and made Minnesota goalie Kent Patterson make some outstanding saves to keep the game tied. Eventually though T.J. Tynan scored his eighth goal of the season on a Fighting Irish power play after Nick Larson (the Minnesota one) couldn't clear the puck in front of the net.
"We came out sloppy and didn't play Gopher hockey," said senior captain Taylor Matson. "[Notre Dame] played like we scouted."
How bad was the first period? The team was out-shot by Notre Dame 14-5 and had a total of nine shot attempts. Only one of those shots were below the dots, which is pathetic for a team which tends to score goals within 10-15 feet of the net. Minnesota couldn't find their rhythm or sustain any pressure and the Fighting Irish made one of the best offenses in college hockey look foolish.
The Gophers found some rhythm in the second period after Notre Dame's Jeff Costello went to the penalty box for slashing Kyle Rau. On the ensuing power play, they were able to bombard goalie Steven Summerhays, who finished the game with 31 saves, with three good chances before Taylor Matson scored on a rebound with six seconds left in the power play to tie the game at one.
However, that was the high point for Minnesota because the third-ranked Irish were able to regain momentum on a Seth Ambroz penalty and two Riley Sheahan goals five minutes later.. Sheahan scored his first on the ensuing power play when Taylor Matson misplayed the puck and added a shorthanded goal on a breakaway three minutes later to make it 3-1.
It was just part of an outstanding period for the Detroit Red Wings draft pick, who hit the post on an earlier breakaway and was robbed by Patterson for one of the his 26 saves.
Sheahan continued being noticed on the ice in the third period. He set up Jeff Costello for what ended up being the game-winning goal off of a faceoff win with 6:16 left in the game. The goal and 4-1 Notre Dame lead sent many of the 10,242 fans at Mariucci Arena heading home to beat the traffic.
Two late goals 31 seconds apart from Nick Bjugstad and Zach Budish rewarded the faithful Gophers fans who stuck around for a wild final two minutes but in the end an incomplete effort wasn't enough and the better team won. Despite Bjugstad and Rau not being 100% healthy - both coach Lucia and Bjugstad mentioned the two will get the next few days to rest after playing six games in Alberta - it had no bearing on the rest of the offense or the numerous defensive breakdowns.
The question for Minnesota now has to be how can they rebound from adversity and turn things around in the second half of the season.
"Take [the last three minutes] as you want," said Matson. We have to go back to the drawing board and get back playing the Gopher hockey we were earlier in the season."
Whether that happens remains to be seen but one thing is for sure: any momentum from the first half of the season is gone. Minnesota needs to create some of their own because beginning next week, it's a new season.
Minnesota travels to Grand Forks next weekend for two games with the University of North Dakota. Friday's game is at 7:30 while Saturday's is at 7:00 PM. Both games will be broadcast on Fox Sports North and streamed on ESPN 1500.
Updating my earlier story on Jack Jablonski, the fans who attended tonight's game donated more than $7,700 to the Jack Jablonski fund. More importantly, there was some good news from Jack today as he moved his arms; a feat which was originally seen to be impossible.
The Gophers are back at full strength tonight as they get back sophomore Nick Bjugstad and freshman Kyle Rau from the World Junior Hockey Championships. Tom Serratore also returns to the lineup after the sophomore missed Saturday's 3-2 loss to Northeastern with an undisclosed injury.
In addition, Chris Student makes his Minnesota debut as the transfer sophomore takes the place of Jake Parenteau. Kent Patterson will be in the net for the Gophers while the Irish are starting Steven Summerhays instead of Mike Johnson.
Minnesota Golden Gophers Line Combinations
Nate Condon - Taylor Matson - Seth Ambroz
Sam Warning - Erik Haula - Jake Hansen
Kyle Rau - Nick Bjugstad - Zach Budish
Tom Serratore - Travis Boyd - Nick Larson
Seth Helgeson - Justin Holl
Ben Marshall - Mark Alt
Nate Schmidt - Chris Student
Goalies (bold indicates starting):
Notre Dame Fighting Irish Line Combinations
Anders Lee - Billy Maday - Mike Voran
Jeff Costello - Riley Sheahan - Bryan Rust
Nick Larson - T.J. Tynan - Austin Wuthrich
Kevin Nugent - Garrett Peterson - David Gerths
Shayne Taker - Stephen Johns
Sam Calabrese - Sean Lorenz
Kevin Lind - Robbie Russo
Tonight's game starts at 7:00 PM and is being televised on BTN. You can follow me on Twitter for in-game hockey updates live from Mariucci @gopherstate and follow @sbnminnesota for the best in Minnesota sports.
One name that has been making the rounds in both the Minnesota and national hockey communities this week is Jack Jablonski. The 16 year-old Benilde-St. Margaret's forward's story transcends across all sports after he severely injured his spinal cord from being checked from behind in a game last week. Jablonski has limited mobility and no movement in his lower body after surgery to fuse his vertebrae Wednesday.
It's a truly tragic story and I can't imagine going through something like that. Thankfully support for Jablonski has been widespread, ranging from support by NHL players to teams across the state having "whiteouts" in honor of Jack to donations and to the Twitter hashtag "#jabs" (Jablonski's nickname) continually trending in Minneapolis. The Gophers have decided to help out Jack and raise money for the Jack Jablonski Fund at tonight's game against Notre Dame.
The University of Minnesota men's hockey team is helping raise money for the Jack Jablonski Fund in two different ways at tomorrow night's U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Game sponsored by Verizon against Notre Dame. A sellout crowd is expected at Mariucci Arena as the No. 3 Gophers face the fifth-ranked Irish.
Gopher student athletes and Minnesota representatives will be at the main entrances to Mariucci Arena collecting cash donations as fans enter the building. In addition, all proceeds from the postgame chuck-a-puck will be donated to the Jack Jablonski Fund.
If you cannot make it to the game and still want to help Jack out, you can donate to the address below, at any Wells Fargo branch or directly online at http://www.jabby13.com/.
Jack Jablonski Fund
8200 Golden Valley Road, Golden Valley, MN 55427
UPDATE: The University of Minnesota will also be taking donations at tomorrow's 5 PM men's basketball game versus Purdue at Williams Arena.
The 15-6-1 University of Minnesota hockey team play just once this weekend against the University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the annual U.S. Hall of Fame game. They are looking to rebound after losing 3-2 to Northeastern in the Mariucci Classic championship. Before that, the Gophers beat Niagara 5-1 while Notre Dame defeated Boston University 5-2 in the first-ever college hockey game on Versus (now NBC Sports Network).
Minnesota enters this weekend ranked third in the USCHO poll and fifth in the USA Today/USA Hockey poll. Notre Dame mirrors the Gophers in the rankings as the Fighting Irish are fifth in the USCHO poll and third in the USA Today/USA Hockey poll. It's the first time Minnesota has been in a game featuring two top-five teams since playing New Hampshire November 7-8, 2008.
Details for this weekend's series are below.