No. 2 Gophers goaltender Close turns away 38 Irish shots for 3-0 victory

John Fineran
Tribune Correspondent
Minnesota scores goal past Notre Dame’s Ryan Bischel (30) during the Minnesota-Notre Dame NCAA hockey game on Saturday, January 14, 2023, at Compton Family Ice Arena in South Bend, Indiana.

SOUTH BEND — For most of the last three months, the Notre Dame hockey team has been its own worst enemy.

 A night after perhaps their best all-around effort of the season, coach Jeff Jackson’s Fighting Irish reverted to their bad habits — too many penalties and unproductive work on the power play — in losing 3-0 Saturday to No. 2 Minnesota before a sellout crowd of 5,022 at the Compton Family Ice Arena.

Bob Motzko’s first-place Gophers rebounded from Friday night’s 2-2 overtime tie and 1-0 shootout loss to the Irish behind 38 saves from senior goaltender Justen Close and goals by three high NHL draftees — senior defenseman Ryan Johnson, freshman sensation Logan Cooley and 6-foot-3, 210-pound sophomore penalty-killer Matthew Knies. 

A lot for the Irish to like in this one, well, except for the final score

Bischel shines in shootout for Notre Dame in 2-2 tie with No. 2 Minnesota

“We played pretty well 5-on-5, but our power play was a big problem,” Jackson said after the Irish fell to 10-11-3 overall and 5-7-2 in the Big Ten for 17 points, two ahead of Michigan for fifth place. “We took a couple of bad penalties, and you can’t do that playing a team like this. We had plenty of chances to get back into the game, but their goaltender played well.”

Motzko was pleased with his team’s Saturday comeback. “We played really hard, and Justen Close was outstanding in goal,” Motzko said. “He had to be for us to get the win. We were still rusty, and it was evident with how many turnovers we had. But you can see it’s starting to come back to us.”

Though the Irish managed to outshoot the Gophers 38-24 including 31-12 in the final 40 minutes, they couldn’t stay out of the penalty box. After making only one minor penalty in Friday’s game, Notre Dame was whistled for seven penalties totaling 25 minutes. Four of those penalties came in the first period after Notre Dame’s power play, ranked 50th out of 60 teams, got just two shots on goal during a five-minute major with Minnesota’s Ryan Chesley off for making contact to the head of Notre Dame’s Ryder Rolston at 2:27.

Minnesota’s Jaxon Nelson (24) deflects the puck as Notre Dame’s Ryan Bischel (30) looks to make the save during the Minnesota-Notre Dame NCAA hockey game on Saturday, January 14, 2023, at Compton Family Ice Arena in South Bend, Indiana.

Irish sophomore center Hunter Strand then received a five-minute major and a game misconduct at 8:41 of the first period for hitting Minnesota’s Luke Mittelstadt from behind in the offensive zone. 

“The penalty was stupid,” Jackson said. Still, the Irish managed to kill it off with five saves from goaltender Ryan Bischel and four of their 21 blocked shots on the night. But the penalty left the Irish without a center for the rest of the evening and allowed the first-place Gophers (17-6-1, 11-2-1 Big Ten for 34 points) to get untracked.

Johnson’s slapshot from the point eluded a screened Bischel at 17:45 of the first period which ended with Notre Dame’s Drew Bavaro and Solag Bakich receiving minor penalties in the final 35 seconds.

 Cooley, the third pick in last summer’s NHL Draft by Arizona who originally was committed to come to Notre Dame, made it 2-0 at 1:13 of the second period with the Gophers enjoying the resulting 5-on-3 advantage. A little under three minutes later with Notre Dame on a power play, Knies picked up a loose puck and skated around Jackson Pierson and Bavaro to beat Bischel at 4:04.

Close did the rest, stopping 19 Irish shots in the second period and 12 more in the final period to complete his fourth shutout of the season and second against Notre Dame. He beat Notre Dame 3-0 back on Nov. 5 in Minneapolis. Notre Dame has now been blanked four times this season.

“We had good chances but couldn’t finish,” Jackson said. “That’s been a little bit of our problem this season. I actually thought we played better in some ways than we did last night. Their guys get scoring chances and finish; our guys can’t.”

Bischel, who had 36 saves on Friday, made 21 Saturday, 10 in the final two periods. Five players — forward Bakich and defensemen Ben Brinkman (who played four seasons at Minnesota), Jake Boltmann, Chase Blackmun and Zach Plucinski — each had three of Notre Dame’s 21 blocked shots.

The Irish travel to Penn State for Friday (6:30 p.m.) and Saturday (5 p.m.) Big Ten games with the fifth-ranked Nittany Lions who skated to a 4-4 tie at Michigan State. 


At Lefty Smith Rink in Compton Family Ice Arena, South Bend 

Notre Dame000—0

 First Period—Scoring: 1. Minnesota, Ryan Johnson 2 (Brody Lamb, Ryan Chesley) EV 17:45. Penalties: Minnesota 1-5, Notre Dame 4-19.   

Second Period—Scoring: 2. Minnesota, Logan Cooley (Jimmy Snuggerud) PP 1:13. 3. Minnesota, Matthew Knies 13 (unassisted) SH 4:04. Penalties (total): Minnesota 1-2 (2-7), Notre Dame 1-2 (5-21).   

 Third Period—Scoring: None. Penalties (total): Minnesota 2-15 (4-22), Notre Dame 2-4 (7-25).Shots on goal: Minnesota 24 (12-6-6), Notre Dame 38 (7-19-12). Goalie saves: Minnesota, Justen Close 38 (7-19-12), Notre Dame, Ryan Bischel 21 (11-4-6).Power-play opportunities: Minnesota 1 of 4, Notre Dame 0 of 2. Faceoffs won: Minnesota 27 (10-8-9), Notre Dame 18 (5-9-4). Blocked shots: Minnesota 3 (0-1-2), Notre Dame 21 (8-5-8).

Referees: Colin Kronforst and Brett Sheva. Linesmen: Jonathan Sladek and Nick Huff. Attendance: 5,022 (4,852). Records: Minnesota 17-6-1, 11-2-1 in Big Ten for 34 points; Notre Dame 10-11-3 overall, 5-7-2 in Big Ten for 17 points.