The No. 1-ranked Gophers finished their non-conference portion of the schedule with an 8-0 record by beating No. 2-ranked Notre Dame 4-1 tonight at Mariucci Arena.
Not a good couple days for the Fighting Irish, first getting spanked in the BCS championship by Alabama, then this. The Gophers’ student section, which was particularly mean tonight (and I mean that with respect; I wish a lot of the Gophers’ atmosphere would filter into the X for Wild games), started to chant “ALABAMA” in the waning minutes.
I got a chuckle out of it at least.
With Erik Haula hurt, Nate Condon moved to second-line center and looked like a natural. He did grow up playing the position, was great in all three zones and continues to dazzle at times with his lights-out speed. He played between Sam Warning and captain Zach Budish, and all three had a goal and assist.
Christian Isackson scored a filthy, filthy third goal by going backhand, top shelf after A.J. Michaelson impressively muscled a defender off the puck after an gritty forecheck. It was a SportsCenter Top 10 as you can see here, and look even makes a cameo (courtesy of @cjzero on Twitter).
Adam Wilcox was awesome as usual, making 22 saves and now has the second-best winning percentage in Division I college hockey (.806). His 1.60 goals against average is sixth.
It was a defensive struggle. The Gophers played a patient game and were able to because they played with the lead all game (12-0-3 when they score first). Also, the Irish hadn’t played in 24 days, so they weren’t sharp early.
“It was a little closer checking than maybe I might have expected,” Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson said. “We started off a little slow.”
Now that the 14-3-3 Gophers are done with the non-conference games, it’s time for them to gain some ground in the WCHA standings. The Gophers are No. 1 in the nation yet sixth in the WCHA out of 12 teams. Yes, they have two games in hand and are only four points back of Nebraska-Omaha, but still sixth.
“Now we’ve got to get back into the league,” Don Lucia said.
It was a family affair for the Lucias tonight. Not only did Don face off vs. Mario in the game, he was honored pregame for his 600th win back on Oct. 20 at Michigan Tech. His entire family was on the bench in a feel good moment.
Lucia said he didn’t know about it and didn’t want it, but he got grief from his wife when he got home today. The family asked the ceremony to be put off until the entire family was in town. Daughter Ali is back for the first time since September from Virginia, so the Lucias will have their family Christmas Wednesday.
On Mario’s play after coming back from world juniors in Russia, Jackson said, “He didn’t look bad. He just probably needed to be a little stronger over the puck in some instances, but I thought he played well.”
Lucia will give the Gophers Wednesday off in preparation for their weekend series vs. Alaska Anchorage. The Gophers hadn’t played since pounding Boston College on Dec. 30, so Lucia has been practicing them a lot lately and he felt some of the players were sluggish tonight and didn’t have their legs.
Check out the game story on www.startribune.com/gophers for the rest of the details.
This was my swan song. Now that the Wild is back, I am returning to that beat.
I had a blast covering the Gophers during the lockout and it’ll be difficult to just turn it off, so I plan to continue to at least come to as many games as I can just to watch. Don Lucia, Mike Guentzel and Grant Potulny were awesome to deal with, as well as hockey SID Brian Deutsch.
But it’s time to me to return full-time to the Wild.
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