#1 Gophers Face-Off Against #2 Irish in Rare Tuesday Tilt
Coming off a dominating performance against former-number one ranked Boston College, the Minnesota Gophers may have expected a reprieve from the fierce competition that BC provided.
At this point in the season, though, the games don't get any easier.
Minnesota (13-3-3 Overall, 6-3-3 WCHA) hosts the #2 ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish (14-4-0 Overall, 10-1-0 CCHA) for a second clash of the college hockey titans in as many games.
About halfway through the season, there's no doubt that Notre Dame deserves its place in this year's upper eschelon of college hockey. The Irish are on a roll, having won six games in a row heading into the holiday break. Their last loss came at North Dakota (they split in South Bend earlier this year), and the Irish have also lost at Boston College and at home against UMD and WMU (with the exception of UMD, all teams ranked in the Top Ten of the most recent USCHO.com Poll.
Notre Dame is led on offense by a pair of Minnesota players. Junior Anders Lee leads the team with 17 points (11G-6A) while freshman Mario Lucia leads the team in points per game at 1.11 (5G-5A-10P in 9GP). Lucia, of course, is the son of Minnesota head coach Don Lucia. He missed the first nine games of the season with a broken leg but has bounced back quickly from the injury, even helping Team USA to a gold medal in the World Junior championship. Junior TJ Tynan is also a dangerous player for the Irish - he may remind many Gopher fans of our own Kyle Rau.
Minnesota currently sits in fifth place in the WCHA, but their strong non-conference showing has them sitting in first place in the national polls. The Gophers are undefeated against non-WCHA opponents, notching wins against Michigan State (2), Canisius, Vermont (2), Air Force and Boston College. The Notre Dame game will be Minnesota's last regular season non-conference game of the year.
The Gophers will play Tuesday's game (as well as this weekend's games against Alaska-Anchorage) without leading scorer Erik Haula. The junior took a slash to the hand in the Boston College game and is hoping to be back in action for Minnesota's conference tilt against North Dakota in two weeks. In the mean time, the Maroon and Gold will need to lean even more heavily on preseason All-American Nick Bjugstad, who had a disappointing first half of the season before exploding for six points (2G-4A) in the Mariucci Classic. Bjugstad will especially need to be the team's go-to scorer in Haula's absence. Also helping fill the void will be sophomore Kyle Rau (9G-10A-19P in 19GP), who had a three-goal weekend in the holiday classic.
The puck drops at 7:00 PM CST Tuesday night, with the game being broadcast on the FSN+ channel on TV, and on the radio at 1500 ESPN.