MINNEAPOLIS — There will be no third Big Ten Hockey Tournament championship for Notre Dame’s Fighting Irish, who likely also saw their season end Sunday night in a 3-2 loss to Minnesota in 3M Arena at Mariucci.
Sunday’s deciding third game in the best-of-three opening series resulted after Notre Dame beat Minnesota 1-0 Friday and the Gophers rebounded for a 2-1 victory Saturday.
Coach Jeff Jackson’s Irish took a 1-0 lead early in the second period on Alex Steeves’ 11th goal of the season. But Bob Motzko’s Golden Gophers sandwiched a pair of power-play goals from Ben Meyers around an even-strength goal by Sampo Ranta in a span of 5:45 later in the period to send the Irish back to South Bend with their season likely over.
Senior Cam Morrison scored a power-play goal at 10:36 of the third period to draw the Irish within one. Jackson pulled senior goalie Cale Morris for an extra skater with 90 seconds to go but it was for naught. Morris finished with 18 save. Minnesota’s Jack LaFontaine had 23, including a pair in the final seconds.
The Gophers (16-14-7) advance to next Saturday’s one-game semifinal at regular-season champion Penn State (20-10-4) which was idle the last weekend of the regular season and then off this past weekend. Michigan and Ohio State, which both swept first-round series with Michigan State and Wisconsin respectively, will meet in Columbus in the other semifinal.
The two semifinal winners advance and play a one-game finale Saturday, March 21 at the highest seed remaining to determine who will succeed Notre Dame as the tournament champion.
The NCAA announces its 16-team field on March 22 and a lot would have to happen to allow the season for the Irish (15-15-7) to continue. Coming into the game, the Irish were ranked No. 18 in the latest USCHO.com PairWise rankings that mimic the criteria used by the selection committee to select the 16 teams for the upcoming NCAA tournament. Minnesota was tied for 19th with Northeastern.
The Irish likely will fall further away from the 16th spot, and with the other tournaments occurring these next two weekends, it’s doubtful a fifth straight NCAA appearance by Jackson’s team will occur.
After outshooting the Gophers 11-2 in the first period of Friday’s 1-0 victory and 13-3 in the first period of Saturday’s 2-1 loss, the Irish ended up on the short end of the shots in the deciding game as Minnesota had a 6-5 edge.
The Irish went on the power play at 6:46 of the first period when Minnesota’s Blake McLaughlin went off for hooking. Irish defenseman Nick Leivermann, a Minnesota native who has four of his five goals this season against the Gophers, hit the pipe before Minnesota killed off the penalty. Jake Pivonka had a chance in the final seconds but rifled a shot wide of LaFontaine and the net just before the final horn.
Notre Dame defenseman Tory Dello dumped the puck into Minnesota zone just over the five-minute mark and the Irish suddenly had a 2-on-1 break. Steeves gathered the puck along the right boards and then skated into the faceoff circle and beat LaFontaine at 5:25 for a 1-0 Notre Dame lead.
The Irish continued to dominate the early stages of the period with a 6-2 edge in shots, but the Gophers gradually started to apply pressure.
The Irish penalty-kill units, which had stopped 26 of 27 previous power-play opportunities in the last 10 games, then were victimized twice by Minnesota’s Ben Meyers within six minutes to break the game wide open.
First with Notre Dame’s Colin Theisen off for tripping at 9:55, a Minnesota shot from the point went off an Irish skate to Meyers, who lifted the puck over Morris’ right shoulder to tie the game at 10:18.
Forty seconds later, Minnesota’s Sampo Ranta skated into the Irish zone and blasted a 45-footer past Morris at 11:06 for Minnesota’s second goal within 48 seconds.
Less than three minutes later, the Irish found themselves in a deeper hole when Cam Burke sent Minnesota’s Tyler Nanne into the boards. Play continued, however, and Notre Dame’s Pierce Crawford was called for hooking in the offensive zone.
When the officials went to call the penalty on Crawford, they asked for a video review of Burke’s play on Nanne and eventually gave the Irish a five-minute major and game disqualification.
It meant the Gophers would have a 5-on-3 power play for two minutes beginning at 14:10 and Morris and the Irish penalty-killers did a good job killing off most of it until Meyers whistled his second goal of the night past Morris at 16:03.
The Irish eventually would kill off the rest of Cam Burke’s major, but the damage was done and the Gophers led 3-1 going into the third period.
The Irish pulled within one at 10:36 of the third period on a power play when Steeves’ feed to Morrison went off the Irish left wing for Morrison’s 13th goal of the season.
Notre Dame then got another power-play opportunity when Minnesota was whistled for too many men on the ice. But the Irish didn’t put enough pressure on LaFontaine and they couldn’t get the equalizer.
MINNESOTA 3, NOTRE DAME 2
3M Arena at Mariucci, Minneapolis
First Period—Scoring: None. Penalties: Notre Dame 0-0, Minnesota 1-2.
Second Period—Scoring: 1. Notre Dame, Alex Steeves 11 (Tory Dello. 2. Minnesota, Ben Meyers 9 (Blake McLaughlin, Robbie Stucker) PP 10:18. 3. Minnesota, Sampo Ranta 9 (Scott Reedy, Brannon McManus) EV 11:06. 4. Minnesota, Ben Meyers 10 (Sammy Walker, Scott Reedy) PP 16:03. Penalties (total): Notre Dame 5-21 (5-21), Minnesota 1-2 (2-4).
Third Period—Scoring: 5. Notre Dame, Cam Morrison 13 (Alex Steeves, Spencer Stastney) PP 10:36. Penalties (total): Notre Dame 0-0 (5-21), Minnesota 2-4 (4-8).
Power-play opportunities—Notre Dame 1 of 3, Minnesota 2 of 3.
Faceoffs—Notre Dame 19, Minnesota 20.
Blocked shots—Notre Dame 12, Minnesota 23.
Shots on goal—Notre Dame 25 (5-6-14), Minnesota 21 (6-13-2).
Goalie saves—Notre Dame, Cale Morris 18 (6-10-2), Minnesota, Jack LaFontaine 23 (5-5-13).
Records—Notre Dame 15-15-7, Minnesota 16-14-7.
Big Ten Tournament
Friday, March 6
Notre Dame 1, Minnesota 0
Michigan 3, Michigan State 0
Ohio State 9, Wisconsin 1
Saturday, March 7
Minnesota 2, Notre Dame 1 (Series tied 1-1)
Michigan 3, Michigan State 0 (Michigan wins series 2-0)
Ohio State 2, Wisconsin 1 (OT) (Ohio State wins series 2-0)
Sunday, March 8
Minnesota 3, Notre Dame (Minnesota wins series 2-1)
Saturday, March 14
(4) Minnesota (16-14-7) at (1) Penn State (20-10-4)
(3) Michigan (18-14-4) at (2) Ohio State (20-11-5)
Saturday, March 21
Second-highest advancing team at Highest-seeded advancing team