Slaggert brothers and Steeves help Irish knock off No. 1 Gophers

Tribune Staff Report
ND Insider

MINNEAPOLIS — The nation’s No. 1 college hockey team got out-Slaggert by Notre Dame on its home ice Friday night.

Junior center Graham Slaggert had a goal and two assists and freshman brother and left wing Landon had a goal and an assist as the South Bend natives led coach Jeff Jackson’s Fighting Irish to a 3-2 Big Ten hockey victory over top-ranked Minnesota in 3M Arena at Mariucci.

The Slaggerts’ linemate, junior right wing Alex Steeves, got the other goal and sophomore goalie Ryan Bischel made 17 saves as the Irish won their third straight game on the road against a ranked opponent. Earlier this season, Notre Dame swept a pair of games at Michigan when the Wolverines were ranked No. 3.

“It’s awesome; it’s always fun to beat Minnesota, especially this year when they’re ranked No. 1,” said Graham Slaggert, who had the game-winner at 15:17 of the third period. “It’s always cool to come up here and play well.”

The loss was only the second this season for Minnesota coach Bob Motzko’s Gophers, who remained in first place in the Big Ten Conference at 9-2-0-0-0-0 with 27 points and are now 11-2 overall. The Irish improved to 6-6-1 overall and 4-4-1-0-1-1 in the Big Ten, good for 15 points to move ahead of Ohio State into third place behind Minnesota and Wisconsin (19 points). The Irish and Gophers conclude their series Saturday at 6 p.m. ET.

“We did a good job managing the puck and we defended well when we had to,” Jackson said. “For us, it’s a big step because we’ve been unable to string together a full 60 (minutes) and tonight we did.”

Jackson was particularly happy with the play of Graham Slaggert, who missed his brother Landon for four games as the freshman skated to gold with Team USA in the recent World Juniors tournament in Edmonton, Alberta. Upon his return, Landon had a pair of goals last week in a 5-4 victory over Arizona State last Saturday.

“Graham has been playing fairly well,” Jackson said. “But with his brother coming back and Steeves getting his game back, that line collectively was good. I’m really pleased with the way Graham has played this season.”

Bischel made just four saves in the third period which the Irish dominated after the teams had battled to a 2-2 deadlock after the first 40 minutes. Notre Dame came out and forced Minnesota goalie Jack LaFontaine to make nine saves in the first seven minutes. He finished with 10 in the period and 24 for the game as the Irish won the shot battle 27-19 and the faceoff battle 22-21 with a 10-6 advantage in the third period.

The Irish played without senior left wing Colin Theisen, who sat out the game after receiving a five-minute major in last Sunday’s 5-3 loss to Arizona State. The suspension ended Theisen’s 129-game consecutive streak stretching back to the opening game of his freshman season. Senior defenseman Matt Hellickson saw his consecutive streak extended to 130 games.

This series is a homecoming for nine Irish players who hail from Minnesota — Bischel, Steeves, Hellickson, defensemen Nate Leivermann and Jake Boltmann, and forwards Grant Silianoff, Michael Graham, Trevor Janicke and Theisen, who will play Saturday. But for the Indiana-born Slaggert brothers, the sons of associate head coach Andy Slaggert, it was an even more memorable night.

“I’ve got family from up here so it’s always cool to come up here and play well,” Graham Slaggert added.

Skating on the Olympic-sized (200 feet by 100 feet) rink at Mariucci, the Irish got caught on a long shift and the Gophers took a 1-0 lead on defenseman Jackson LaCombe’s goal at 16:50 of the first period. But the Irish tied it less than three minutes later when Graham Slaggert won a faceoff draw and Steeves beat LaFontaine at 19:28.

Early in the second period, Minnesota’s Jaxon Nelson won a draw and Sampo Ranta beat Bischel for his team-leading ninth goal of the season and a 2-1 Minnesota lead at 1:48. But the Irish tied it at 6:23 with their first power-play goal following an 0-of-18 drought with the man-advantage. Leivermann started the play by getting the puck to Graham Slaggert, who got it to brother Landon for Notre Dame’s third power-play goal of the season. The score remained 2-2 as the second period ended.

LaFontaine made three saves on Landon Slaggert, Steeves and Silianoff in the first 1:24 of the third period to keep the game tied. The Irish shot advantage reached 9-0 in the period before Minnesota’s Ben Meyers finally got a shot that Bischel saved at 6:01.

The Irish maintained their advantage and kept up the pressure when Graham Slaggert took a pass from brother Landon and beat LaFontaine at 15:17. The Gophers pulled LaFontaine for a sixth attacker at 18:31 but could not get the equalizer.

Notre Dame 1 1 1—3

Minnesota 1 1 0—2

First Period—Scoring: 1. Minnesota, Jackson LaCombe 1 (Mike Koster, Nathan Burke) EV 16:50. 2. Notre Dame, Alex Steeves 6 (Graham Slaggert) EV 19:28. Penalties: Notre Dame 1-2, Minnesota 0-0.

Second Period—Scoring: 3. Minnesota, Sampo Ranta 9 (Jaxon Nelson) EV 1:48. 4. Notre Dame, Landon Slaggert 4 (Graham Slaggert, Nick Leivermann) PPG 6:23. Penalties (total): Notre Dame 1-2 (2-4), Minnesota 1-2 (1-2).

Third Period—Scoring: 5. Notre Dame, Graham Slaggert 4 (Landon Slaggert) EV 15:17. Penalties (total): Notre Dame 0-0 (2-4), Minnesota 0-0 (1-2).

Power-play opportunities—Notre Dame 1 of 1, Minnesota 0 of 2. Shots on goal—Notre Dame 27 (10-6-11), Minnesota 19 (7-8-4). Goalie saves—Notre Dame, Ryan Bischel 17 (6-7-4), Minnesota, Jack LaFontaine 24 (9-5-10) Blocked shots—Notre Dame 12 (3-4-5), Minnesota 11 (0-4-7). Faceoffs won—Notre Dame 22 (5-7-10), Minnesota 21 (7-8-6). Records—Notre Dame 6-6-1 (4-4-1-0-1-1 Big Ten), Minnesota 11-2-0 (9-2-0-0-0-0 Big Ten). Referees—Brian Aaron and Colin Kronforst. Linesmen—Chad Roethlisberger and Johnathan Morrison.

Notre Dame’s Graham Slaggert shown here against Western Michigan on Jan 3. at the Compton Family Ice Arena in South Bend, had a goal and two assists in an Irish win at No. 1 Minnesota Friday night.