Minnesota natives Trevor Janicke, Ben Brinkman hope Notre Dame's ready for No. 2 Gophers

John Fineran
Tribune Correspondent
Wisconsin goaltender Jared Moe (35) smothers a shot by Notre Dame's Trevor Janicke in the third period of the Badgers' 2-0 victory at the Kohl Center in Madison, Wis. on Friday Jan. 6, 2023.

Uwice Notre Dame 1 Jan 6 2023

SOUTH BEND — It’s only natural that Minnesota natives Trevor Janicke and Ben Brinkman are a little more excited about Notre Dame’s hockey fortunes this week with their home-state Golden Gophers coming for a Big Ten visit.

The academic second semester starts next week at Notre Dame, but for coach Jeff Jackson’s Fighting Irish, the Friday and Saturday night games at the Compton Center with coach Bob Motzko’s No. 2 team could be considered final exams.

The 10-10-2 Irish, who are 5-6-1 and in fourth place in the Big Ten at the halfway point of the league schedule, are just halfway to the 16-6-0 Gophers, who have 30 points thanks to their 10-2-0 league mark that includes 4-1 and 3-0 victories over Notre Dame at Minneapolis back in early November. Notre Dame was manhandled by the Gophers, who had an 85-46 shot advantage in the two games, including 54-25 in the opener.

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Janicke and Brinkman, two of seven Notre Dame players from the Land of 10,000 Lakes, know the Irish can’t afford any more spinning-in-place weekends as they’ve experienced the last six series, following up opening-game losses with second-game victories. That was again the case last weekend at last-place Wisconsin where the Irish lost 2-0 Friday before enjoying a 6-4 Saturday victory, their most explosive offensive output of the season.

Janicke, a right wing and alternate captain from Maple Grove who shares the scoring with six goals and 15 points, and Brinkman, a defenseman from Edina who earned his undergraduate degree at Minnesota, both saw progress in the Friday loss that carried over into the Saturday victory. On Friday, Notre Dame was outshot 28-15 in the first 40 minutes and already trailed 2-0 before outshooting Wisconsin 12-9 in the scoreless third period. On Saturday, the Irish flipped the script, outshooting Wisconsin 29-14 in the first two periods while taking a 5-0 lead.

“Our mentality was to bottle up what we had learned in that (Friday) third period,” said Janicke, who scored one of his two goals Saturday and assisted on another as Notre Dame took a 4-0 first-period lead which eventually chased Wisconsin goalie Jared Moe. “Finding our identity early in (Saturday’s) game definitely helped us.”

The 6-foot-1, 220-pound Brinkman, who has two goals this season, concurred. “It’s important to build off what works and continuing to do that,” Brinkman noted. “We’ve seen what works and we need to keep that up.”

What the Irish did better Saturday was to carry the puck into the offensive zone and then use their speed to get behind the Wisconsin defense in order to exert pressure with their size and strength. 

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The Irish clearly were more offensive, something they will need to be against the Gophers, who rank No. 3 in both scoring offense (4.00 goals per game) and scoring margin (1.55 goals per game) and are seventh in power-play percentage (19 of 74 for 25.7 percent). 

Motzko’s team may have college hockey’s most productive line with freshman center Logan Cooley between freshman right wing Jimmy Snuggerud and sophomore left wing Matthew Knies. Senior Jackson LaCombe and junior Brock Faber lead a defensive corps which features freshmen Ryan Chesley, Luke Mittelstadt and Cal Thomas. 

Cooley, Snuggerud, Mittelstadt and Chesley all played for bronze medal-winning Team USA in the recent World Juniors Championships in Canada. 

MSU's Matt Basgall moves the puck against Logan Cooley of Minnesota Friday, Dec. 2, 2022, at Munn Ice Arena in East Lansing.

“I’ve known Brock since he was 5 or 6 (because) he and my brother Justin (a Notre Dame sophomore) played together,” Janicke said. “We’re super close with the Faber family.” 

Brinkman’s high school career at Edina overlapped those of fellow Irish blueliner Jake Boltmann and current junior left wing Mason Nevers of the Gophers. But he knows those bonds will be suspended for four or more hours this weekend at the Lefty Smith Rink.

“It was pretty weird going back to Minnesota and it will be a little weird here this weekend,” Brinkman said. “But once you get started, it’s just another game. I’ll be excited to see those guys and to hopefully get a couple of wins.”

Notre Dame right wing Ryder Rolston (12) controls the puck as Minnesota center Sammy Walker (9) defends in the second period at the Compton Family Ice Arena Friday, Jan. 28, 2022, in South Bend.

Minnesota Golden Gophers vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish 

When/Where: Friday at 7 p.m. and Saturday at 6 p.m. at Lefty Smith Rink (4,852) in Compton Family Ice Arena, South Bend. 

Radio: WZOC-FM (94.3) and

TV/Streaming: Peacock.

Records/Rankings: Minnesota (16-6-0 overall, 10-2-0 Big Ten for 30 points) is No. 2 in both the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine coaches’ and DCU/ media polls, is No. 1 in the NCAA Tournament PairWise Comparison Rankings and No. 1 in the KRACH ratings’ strength of schedule. … Notre Dame (10-10-2 overall, 5-6-1 Big Ten for 15 points) is receiving votes in both the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine coaches’ and DCU/ media polls, is No. 17 in the NCAA Tournament PairWise Comparison Rankings and No. 2 in the KRACH ratings’ strength of schedule.

Coaches: Minnesota, Bob Motzko, 100-56-11 in fifth season at Minnesota and 376-248-60 in 18th season overall. … Notre Dame, Jeff Jackson, 386-240-68 in 18th season at Notre Dame and 568-292-93 in 24th season overall.

Rivalry: Minnesota leads series 40-25-5 after sweeping Notre Dame earlier this season at 3M Arena at Mariucci with 4-1 and 3-0 victories on Nov. 4 and 5. … Rivalry began with a pair of Minnesota 2-1 victories at the Minneapolis Arena on Feb. 9-10, 1925. … First Notre Dame victory, a 2-0 shutout at Minneapolis Arena, came on Feb. 8, 1927.

Scouting Golden Gophers: Minnesota split non-conference, home-and-home series with St. Cloud State, losing 3-0 Saturday, Jan. 7 in St. Cloud and winning 2-1 (OT) Sunday, Jan. 8 in Minneapolis. … Freshman right wing Jimmy Snuggerud (12-16-28) leads team in scoring followed by linemates freshman center Logan Cooley (11-16-27) and sophomore left wing Matthew Knies (12-11-23). … Senior Jackson LaCombe (4-16-20) leads defensemen. … Senior goaltender Justen Close has 13-6-0 record with 2.08 goals-against average, a .919 saves percentage and three shutouts. … Cooley (7-7-14), Snuggerud (5-8-13) and freshmen defensemen Luke Mittelstadt (0-3-3) and Ryan Chesley (0-1-1) played for bronze medal-winning Team USA in the recent World Juniors Championship in Canada. … NCAA team statistics (out of 60 teams as of Jan. 9): Scoring offense, 4.00 goals by game (3rd); scoring defense, 2.45 goals by game (15th); scoring margin, 1.55 goals by game (3rd); faceoff-win percentage, 0.521 (655-601) (18th); power-play percentage, 0.257 (19 of 74) (7th); power-play goals scored, 19 (16th); penalty-kill percentage, 0.810 (47 of 58) (24th); shorthanded goals scored, 1 (34th); penalty minutes per game, 7.00 (58th).

Scouting Fighting Irish: Notre Dame split Big Ten series at Wisconsin, losing 2-0 Friday, Jan. 6 and winning 6-4 Saturday, Jan. 7. … Senior right wing Trevor Janicke (6-9-15) and junior right wing Ryder Rolston (6-9-15) share Irish scoring lead ahead of grad defenseman Nick Leivermann (5-8-13), grad center Chayse Primeau (4-8-12), junior defenseman Drew Bavaro (4-7-11) and senior left wing Jesse Lansdell (4-6-10). … Senior Ryan Bischel has a 10-10-1 record with a 2.57 goals-against average, a .924 saves percentage and four shutouts (tied for the national lead). … Grad defenseman Ben Brinkman (2-1-3) earned his undergraduate degree at Minnesota, scoring two goals and 21 assists for 23 points in 140 career games. … NCAA team statistics (out of 60 teams as of Jan. 9): Scoring offense, 2.50 goals by game (44th); scoring defense, 2.86 goals by game (34th); scoring margin, -0.36 goals by game (39th); faceoff-win percentage, 0.498 (669-675) (33rd); power-play percentage, 0.141 (10 of 71) (50th); power-play goals scored, 10 (49th); penalty-kill percentage, 0.756 (62 of 82) (54th); shorthanded goals scored, 2 (22nd); penalty minutes per game, 12.55 (11th).

Quoting Jeff Jackson: (Wisconsin series)“(Friday) it was on us, not getting into the dirty areas on ice to score goals. Saturday we did, scoring four goals in the first period. Our team seems to be all or nothing at times. It’s a frustrating situation but one we’re trying to improve on. We play well for a period of time but then drop off, give up a few goals and all of a sudden we’re chasing the game. We’re trying to address the specific areas that are costing us. Staying out of the penalty box would be one of them.”

(Giving up four power-play goals Saturday night) “We’re averaging over 12 minutes a game. Our (past) teams have been known to be among the most disciplined teams in the country. We’ve averaged between six and eight the last 10 years. Now we’re averaging closer to 13 minutes and that’s not going to win you a lot of hockey games in my opinion. It’s a fifth of a game where you’re not able to play 5-on-5 and potentially score goals.”

(Did Irish learn anything from St. Cloud-Minnesota series) “St. Cloud may be there with Minnesota as being the best team in the country. St. Cloud is a really good defensive team. It’s hard for us to emulate other teams. We need to play our game and get better at it. And I think we have in some areas. We’re still searching for that consistency, and a majority of that consistency comes from scoring.”

Next up: Minnesota welcomes No. 6 Michigan while Notre Dame visits No. 5 Penn State on Friday, Jan. 20 and Saturday, Jan. 21.

– John Fineran, Tribune Correspondent