South Bend, IN – A college hockey player’s first collegiate goal is usually something they remember for the rest of their lives.
For Blake McLaughlin, his second Gopher goal was even more memorable.
For the second night in a row, McLaughlin scored the game winning goal to lift the Minnesota Gophers (9-8-4 Overall, 6-3-3 B1G) over the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (12-8-1, 5-6-1). Saturday’s goal, McLaughlin’s second as a Gopher, came in breathtaking fashion: a game-winning backhander with just 7.8 seconds remaining in the third period to break a 1-1 tie and earn a road sweep over the #9-ranked Irish.
Unlike Friday, Notre Dame scored the game’s first goal and took an early lead when Jack Jenkins was credited with a goal at 7:29 of the first period. A fluttering shot from the point deflected twice on its way through goalie Mat Robson’s legs, giving the Irish the important first goal of the game.
The Gophers used a powerplay to tie the game midway through the second period. Brannon McManus deflected a Tyler Sheehy wrister from the left circle on a nice passing play past Notre Dame’s Dylan St. Cyr to knot the score at 1-1.
Notre Dame pressed in the third, putting up 15 shots to the Gophers’ six, but McLaughlin was able to turn the tides with just 7.8 seconds left in the final frame. Notre Dame broke into the Gopher offensive zone and lost the puck, while Tyler Sheehy found a streaking McLaughlin taking advantage of a sloppy Irish change. McLaughlin skated up the right side of the slot and fired a backhander past the outstretched blocker arm of St. Cyr and into the net to give the Gophers the huge win and their first sweep of the season.
McLaughlin wouldn’t have been in position to score the game-winning goal without another stellar performance in net from Mat Robson. The junior goalie has been on fire recently, making 34 saves on 35 shots Saturday to backstop the Gophers to the win. In all, Robson made 76 saves on 78 shots for the weekend, and will surely garner Big Ten star of the week honors when they are released Monday.
The series sweep moves Minnesota up into second place alone in the Big Ten regular season standings, just two points behind leader Ohio State and three ahead of third-place Michigan. The pair of wins also moved the Gophers up into 21st in the PairWise Rankings, which predict the formula used by the NCAA Committee to select the field for the NCAA tournament. While the team still has work ahead of them to even make the tournament, going on the road to a top 10 team and sweeping is definitely a step in the right direction. Minnesota has now won three games in a row for the first time all year, and has done so against top 10 opponents in Penn State and Notre Dame. To say the team has turned a corner is not hyperbole at this point – Minnesota is 7-3-3 in their last 13 games.
Next up for the Gophers is a road series in East Lansing against Michigan State. The Spartans are definitely struggling this season, sitting in last place in the B1G and 29th in the PairWise. However, the team is not without talent – the nation’s leading scorer Taro Hirose (11G-24A-35P) anchors Michigan State’s big first line, which also features Patrick Khodorenko (13-11-24) and Mitchell Lewandowski (7-14-21). The Spartans are fresh of a road split at #11 Penn State.
The series goes Saturday-Sunday, with Saturday’s series opener at 4:30 PM and Sunday’s finale at 4PM. Both games will be televised on BTN, streamed on BTN2Go, and can be heard over the airwaves on 1130AM in the Twin Cities.