The hubbub coming into Tuesday's No. 1 vs. 2 clash at Mariucci Arena had to do with the fact that Don Lucia, the longtime coach of the Gophers, would be coaching against his youngest child, Mario, a freshman at Notre Dame and a Wild prospect.
But midway through the first period, that story line sailed through the window when it became apparent that this indeed was a showdown between the nation's top two teams.
What looked like a potential Gophers romp early became a tight-checking defensive struggle before Minnesota added an empty-netter and prevailed 4-1 to stop the Fighting Irish's six-game winning streak.
"We didn't want to play a racehorse game against them," Don Lucia said. "We wanted to play a patient game. Look at both teams defensively, neither gives up much."
The Irish (14-5), which entered as the second-best defensive team in the country (1.61 goals a game), gave up two goals in the first 7 1/2 minutes and a season-high four to the third-best offensive team in the country (3.65 goals a game).
With Erik Haula sidelined until at least the North Dakota series, speedy Nate Condon, who grew up playing center but has played mostly wing at Minnesota, moved to second-line center between Sam Warning and Zach Budish. Each player scored a goal and had an assist.
"Anytime you have scoring on multiple lines, it's easier on the ice," Condon said. "[Nick Bjugstad's] line struggled a little bit. They didn't get the bounces they needed. Luckily our line had a good night."
Christian Isackson also scored and freshman Adam Wilcox, making his 17th consecutive start, was a rock as usual with 22 saves to improve to 13-2-3. His 1.60 goals-against average ranks sixth in the nation and his .806 winning percentage is second.
Wilcox keeps making the "critical save at an important juncture," Lucia said.
Tuesday, it was a third- period breakaway stop with his left skate to rob Bryan Rust to hold a 3-1 lead.
Speaking of rust, the Irish, who lost for the first time since Nov. 24, hadn't played in 24 days and only once since Dec. 8. Eighty-one seconds in, goalie Steven Summerhays (1.62 goals-against average) didn't pick up Condon's snap shot off Budish's drop pass. It was Condon's sixth goal for a team that's 12-0-3 when scoring first.
Seven minutes later, Warning scored the eventual winner when after an intense, drawn-out battle for a loose puck, Warning outjostled defenders to find it.
"It looked like we had been off for a month," Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson said. "It would have been nice if we could have scheduled an exhibition game or something before playing Minnesota. We just weren't sharp in that first part of the first period."
Jeff Costello trimmed the lead to 2-1, but freshman A.J. Michaelson, scratched the previous three games, muscled an Irish defender off a puck to set up a filthy backhand-top shelf goal by Isackson for a 3-1 lead.
"There was no easy ice in the game," Lucia said.
The game featured the return of Mario Lucia and Gophers defenseman Mike Reilly, who both had to be jetlagged after coming back from Russia on Sunday night after winning a gold medal with the United States in the world junior championships.
Lucia finished minus-3 and had one shot.
"I saw flashes [of him] here and there, but I was more zoned in on making sure I had the right line matchups," Don Lucia said.
The Gophers (14-3-3) finished the nonconference schedule 8-0. The remaining 16 games are all against WCHA foes starting with Alaska Anchorage.
"We've got a couple games in hand, but we're in sixth place in a 12-team league," Budish said. "We've got to start winning games and moving up the ladder."