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Gophers Ice Irish 4-1

Gophers Ice Irish 4-1
Minnesota Finishes Non-Conference Schedule 8-0

While the rest of the WCHA has struggled in non-conference play going 36-31-5, Minnesota knocked off second ranked Notre Dame 4-1 to finish its out of league schedule undefeated. Gopher wins over Michigan State, Canisus, Vermont, and Air Force may not be impressive, but convincing wins over highly ranked Boston College and Notre Dame put Minnesota in good position for pairwise rankings.

“That 8-0 [non-conference record], especially the last two games with BC and Notre Dame, two real high quality wins that’s going to help us at the end,” said Lucia. “Now we got to get back into the league, we’ve got a difficult league schedule the second half when you look at who we have to play coming up.”

The team’s 16-game WCHA schedule starts with Alaska Anchorage and will include games against North Dakota, Minnesota State, St. Cloud State, Wisconsin, Minnesota Duluth, Denver, and Bemidji State. The team starts the stretch hoping they won’t be without leading scorer Erik Haula for too long. Haula’s injury from the BC game kept him out of the lineup Tuesday against Notre Dame and will keep him out of the Alaska Anchorage series before Lucia lets him practice for a potential return against North Dakota.

In the meantime Nate Condon took the Finn’s place on the second line and Mike Reilly manned Haula’s right wing circle spot on the power play. While the team played well during five-on-five situations, the Gophers struggled going scoreless on six opportunities with the man advantage Tuesday night. Notre Dame’s penalty killers did an excellent job denying entries at the blue line and aggressively jumping players who mishandled the puck. It's something that may not be a factor this weekend against the Seawolves, but surely will be one when North Dakota's aggressive kill comes to Mariucci the week after.

“Obviously with Erik going down we had to move someone else there and Mike’s a skilled guy,” said Budish. “It took a little bit of an adjustment, but I think he’ll get more comfortable there, and hopefully we get some good practice on the power play here Wednesday and Thursday to get ready for Alaska so we can get clicking a bit more.”

Notre Dame entered Tuesday night’s one versus two match-up after a 24-day layoff and Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson thought in hindsight it would have been nice to have an exhibition before the tilt. Minnesota jumped on the Irish early with two first period goals while Notre Dame struggled to find their legs. Condon found plenty of time and space after a Budish drop pass to get his sixth goal of the year and Sam Warning converted a loose puck into his sixth goal of the season. Notre Dame finally got on the board at 14:31 of the period as they pressured the Gopher crease and Jeff Costello got one past Adam Wilcox.

Christian Isackson restored the lead to two, 5:23 into the second. Fourth line center A.J. Michaelson put a tenacious forecheck on the Irish creating a turnover, and then Isackson showed off some silky smooth hands with a forehand to backhand dangle before lifting the puck over Notre Dame goalie Steven Summerhays’ blocker.

Adam Wilcox had another solid performance in goal for the Gophers making 22 saves. Lucia has said all season that Wilcox comes up with the big saves at the right time, and the freshman keeper came through again when Notre Dame winger Bryan Rust had a clear breakaway late in the third.

“When we do have a breakdown he’s there to make the critical save at that important juncture of the game,” said Lucia.

Budish got his sixth goal of the season to ice the game after Condon chipped the puck out to center and Kyle Rau dished it over to the captain for easy empty net goal at 19:45 of the third.

The Gophers will enjoy an off day Wednesday, and Lucia indicated Mike Reilly will also be given Thursday off as the team starts it’s stretch run of conference games. While Minnesota is the top ranked team in both college hockey polls, the Gophers sit four points back of Omaha and sixth in the WCHA with two games in hand.

Friday night's game against Alaska Anchorage will be on the Big Ten Network with a late 8 pm start. Saturday night's game will be back on FSN with a traditional 7pm puck drop.

Golden Nuggets: It was a 6-6-6 night for the Gophers against Notre Dame. Condon, Warning, and Budish all scored their sixth goal of the season… the three starts of the game were Isackson #3, Wilcox #2, and Warning #1… Mario Lucia didn’t start the game against his dad’s team and the Gopher coach didn’t pay too much attention to him after the drop of the puck, but the Minnesota players sure did as three different guys played the body on him during his first shift… the Lucia family was also all on-hand to honor their patriarch for his 600th career win before the game…. fans in sections 5, 6, 7, and 8 unveiled a giant flag at the first TV timeout of the first period to honor World Junior Championship gold medalists Reilly, Lucia, and Gopher assistant coach Grant Potulny. See the video here: http://twitter.yfrog.com/nm7m2pvmocmbeqjbxisxvoboz

Written by: Eric Vegoe on Tuesday, January 8th, 2013

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