MINNEAPOLIS — There must be something about playing a ranked hockey team in its home rink that gets Notre Dame’s attention big time.
Just 3-6-1 at the Compton Family Ice Arena, the Fighting Irish are now 4-0 against ranked hockey teams on the road. Saturday night, senior goalie Dylan St. Cyr turned away 25 shots and Solag Bakich and Max Ellis scored goals as Notre Dame held off No. 1 Minnesota for the second straight night, this time 2-1 on the 3M Arena at Mariucci ice.
The sweep by coach Jeff Jackson’s team, which won 3-2 Friday night, lifts them over .500 for the first time this season at 7-6-1 overall and improves their record to 5-4-1-0-1-1 in the Big Ten for 18 points, one behind second-place Penn State and nine behind Bob Motzko’s Gophers (11-3 overall, 9-2-0-0-0-0 Big Ten) who lost for the third time in four games.
The Irish return to the Compton and the Lefty Smith Ice Rink Thursday and Friday nights to play host to Michigan, which was ranked No. 3 nationally when Notre Dame swept the Wolverines Nov. 27-28 in Ann Arbor by the same scores, 3-2 and 2-1, they beat the Gophers by this weekend.
“The big thing for us is we need to play like this at home,” Jackson said. “We need to play with the same discipline and energy when we play in our building. That’s going to be crucial against Michigan, which is a very similar team to Minnesota with their speed and skill. But I thought for 5½ periods (in Mariucci) we looked pretty skilled and fast, too.”
St. Cyr, a 5-foot-9 senior from Northville, Michigan, and the son of goalies Gerry St. Cyr and Manon Rheaume, a Canadian woman who played in an NHL exhibition for Tampa Bay in 1992, lost his bid for a fourth career shutout when Minnesota’s Jaxon Nelson scored at 17:36 of the third period.
“Just like last night, we limited them to a lot of outside shots,” said St. Cyr, who redshirted last season and has two years remaining following this one if he chooses to use them. “It was a good step forward. We’ve been struggling with our special teams. We knew they had a pretty good power play, so we tried to do everything we could to limit their shots.”
The Gophers’ power play went 0 for 7 for the weekend, including 0 for 5 Saturday night. Notre Dame, which entered the series on its own 0-for-18 power-play drought, scored a power-play goal (by Ellis) for the second straight night.
“We spent a lot of time last week in practice on special teams,” Jackson added. “Fifty percent of time, we practiced on special teams last week, and it showed up. The big difference both nights was goaltending and the P-K (penalty-killing unit).”
The Irish, who got the game-winning goal from South Bend’s Graham Slaggert and dominated the third period in Friday’s victory behind 17 saves from Minnesota native Ryan Bischel, picked up Saturday night by outshooting the Golden Gophers 10-7 in the first period while taking a 1-0 lead.
The Irish goal came during a line change early in the game. The Gophers turned the puck over at mid-ice and junior center Michael Graham, who grew up in nearby Eden Prairie, sent in Bakich, the son of former Notre Dame linebacker Huntley Bakich whose shot from the faceoff circle beat Minnesota goalie Jack LaFontaine at 1:54.
The teams each had two power-play opportunities in the first 20 minutes but didn’t score. With Minnesota’s Jackson LaCombe off for elbowing midway through the period, Irish defenseman Nick Leivermann, also from Eden Prairie, hit the pipe with a shot, had another stopped by LaFontaine and another shot blocked. Later with Ellis in the box for roughing, St. Cyr stopped Gophers captain Sammy Walker in close at 17:18.
The Gophers came out in the second period and had a 7-1 edge in shots, but St. Cyr stood his ground. Then Minnesota’s Blake McLaughlin, who was stopped by St. Cyr just moments earlier, took a hooking penalty out of frustration at 9:20, giving the Irish their third power-play chance of the night.
The Irish converted when Ellis’ slapshot beat a screened LaFontaine at 10:37 for a 2-0 lead. Spencer Stastney and Trevor Janicke got assists while the screen was set by center Jake Pivonka skating in front of the net.
Following the goal, Landon Slaggert got back-to-back penalties, the second for apparently leaving the penalty box early. But the Irish killed off both as St. Cyr, who had 11 saves in the period, saw just one shot on goal. Graham Slaggert then was penalized at 18:45 for interference, but the Irish got out of the second period without any damage.
St. Cyr made seven saves on the eight shots on goal that came his way. After Nelson scored, Motzko pulled LaFontaine at 18:38 and St. Cyr made a kick save on Nelson at 19:06 to keep the Irish in the lead and 54 seconds later the Irish had their sweep.
NOTRE DAME 2, MINNESOTA 1
At 3M Arena at Mariucci, Minneapolis
Notre Dame 1 1 0—2
Minnesota 0 0 1—1
First Period—Scoring: 1. Notre Dame, Solag Bakich 2 (Michael Graham) EV 1:54. Penalties: Notre Dame 2-4, Minnesota 2-4.
Second Period—Scoring: 2. Notre Dame, Max Ellis (Spencer Stastney, Trevor Janicke) PPG 10:37. Penalties (total): Notre Dame 4-8 (6-12), Minnesota 2-4 (4-8).
Third Period—Scoring: 3. Minnesota, Jaxon Nelson 3 (Ryan Johnson, Sammy Walker) EV 17:36. Penalties (total): Notre Dame 0-0 (6-12), Minnesota 1-2 (5-10).
Shots on goal—Notre Dame 24 (10-6-8), Minnesota 26 (7-11-8). Goalie saves—Notre Dame, Dylan St. Cyr 25 (7-11-7), Minnesota, Jack LaFontaine 22 (9-5-8). Power-play opportunities—Notre Dame 1 of 4, Minnesota 0 of 5. Faceoffs won—Notre Dame 25 (6-10-9), Minnesota 22 (10-6-6). Blocked shots—Notre Dame 9 (1-4-4), Minnesota 17 (6-7-4).
Referees—Brian Aaron and Colin Kronforst. Linesmen—Chad Roethlisberger and Johnathan Morrison.
Records—Notre Dame 7-6-1 (5-4-1-0-1-1 Big Ten), Minnesota 11-3-0 (9-3-0-0-0-0 Big Ten).