Gophers coach Bob Motzko thought his team already learned this lesson.
The No. 1 team in the country was "punched in the nose," as Motzko called it, in the first game of last weekend's series at Wisconsin, tarnishing a perfect record. At the time, Motzko welcomed that stumble as a chance to fortify his players and test their response, an exam the Gophers aced coming back to split the series.
But when the Gophers tripped up again Friday against Notre Dame, Motzko wasn't in the mood to reteach this class.
"We're beyond lessons now," Motzko said. "… We have to have a much better knee-bend in our game and in battle level off faceoffs. We had two leads in the game. We weren't awful. But Notre Dame was harder. Notre Dame was more crisp."
The Gophers fell 3-2 to the unranked Fighting Irish at 3M Arena at Mariucci in front of a small assembly of family and friends. Minnesota (11-2, 9-2 Big Ten) played without forward Scott Reedy and defenseman Matt Staudacher, who will also miss Saturday's rematch with injuries.
Motzko lamented how the Gophers couldn't finish out the game, conceding the winner with just five minutes to play. The coach said the result was a combination of the Irish (6-6-1, 4-4-1) exerting far more energy when it came to winning battles and chasing down the puck and the Gophers' nearly dozen turnovers near the blue line and blatant defensive errors on each goal.
Winger Sampo Ranta said he felt the Gophers were just overcomplicating the strategy against a team known for its oppressing defense and for playing close, low-scoring games.
"We've just got to be simple against this team," Ranta said. "They pack it in, we're trying to go one-on-one. And we had a lot of turnovers. We can't do that. So we've just got to play behind them, work down low and create our chances that way."
The Gophers took the lead late in the first period from defenseman Jackson LaCombe showing his trademark skill, skating around the zone with the puck magnetized to his stick before slapping it past Notre Dame goaltender Ryan Bischel, who made 17 saves.
But just a couple minutes later, the Gophers failed to mark Notre Dame winger Alex Steeves on a faceoff, allowing him a quick scoring play in front of Gophers goaltender Jack LaFontaine, who had 24 saves.
Ranta managed his own faceoff goal early in the second period, but the Gophers gave up a power-play goal about five minutes later to Notre Dame forward Landon Slaggert.
In the third period, Notre Dame outshot the Gophers 11-4, ultimately snagging the game-winner from Graham Slaggert when the Gophers couldn't clear the puck from behind their net.
"I mean, we just got a little selfish," LaCombe said. "We've got to keep playing as a team when we get leads, and we can't just try to do it ourselves."
When the Gophers take on Notre Dame again Saturday, Motzko will hope his players have the juice to cobble together more than just "spurts" in the offensive zone. And that they learned another important lesson the hard way.
"The second half of the year, the speed limit gets up," Motzko said. " We played two good teams back-to-back now, and they've got good bite in their game.
"We've got to bite back."