The Gophers locker room after establishing their first losing streak of the season was dead silent.
But they weren't mad. Just disappointed.
"I could have told you this past Monday how they were going to play. This game was scripted right from the get-go," goaltender Jack LaFontaine said of Notre Dame. "When you're preparing yourself for that sort of week, and you don't really solve how to play against the team like that, it gets frustrating. And I think for a lot of us, myself included, it's very disappointing to be at the place we were and then to kind of take a step back."
The No. 1 Gophers lost 2-1 to the Fighting Irish on Saturday, following Friday's 3-2 loss. That took the team to 11-3 overall (9-3 Big Ten) while Notre Dame, which fell just outside the national rankings this past week, improved to 7-6-1 (5-4-1).
Notre Dame neutralized this young and speedy Gophers squad through its physical presence, slamming big hits on the Gophers. Motzko said his team, which went unbeaten in the first half of a delayed COVID-19 season, hadn't experienced hard, grinding games like the past two series that left the Gophers 1-3.
"We're not talented enough to show up at the rink and everything's going to pop our way," Motzko said. "… It kind of leaks into your team that when you start off 10-0, there is that, 'Hey, this is kind of easy.' And then you get smacked down, and you realize."
On Friday, the Gophers took two leads before allowing Notre Dame its first lead late in the game. On Saturday, the Gophers' slow start put Notre Dame ahead less than two minutes into the game when winger Solag Bakich snapped the puck past LaFontaine.
Motzko was pleased with his team's response in the latter two periods, but it still made costly mistakes. Winger Blake McLaughlin took an offensive-zone hooking penalty that led to Notre Dame's second goal, a screened shot on the power play from Max Ellis.
"The power play's nothing fancy," LaFontaine said. "But they do a very good job of taking my eyes away."
Notre Dame finished the series 2-for-5 on the power play, while the Gophers went 0-for-7, including five chances Saturday. Motzko said Notre Dame schemed against one power-play unit well, while the other let frustration break down the strategy. He also said those units took a couple "poo-poo shots."
"We had our chances. And I think missing the net was a big one," center Sammy Walker said. "We had open shots that we should have just hit the net on."
Center Jaxon Nelson kept the Gophers from their first shutout loss of the season by scoring about two minutes from the final buzzer with LaFontaine pulled.
LaFontaine ended the game with 22 saves. Notre Dame goaltender Dylan St. Cyr made 25. The Gophers were again without forward Scott Reedy and defenseman Matt Staudacher because of injuries. They could return for the Thursday-Friday home series against Arizona State.
"In hindsight, this is probably the most important series of the year so far," LaFontaine said. "... It's going to teach us a few valuable lessons for the weeks to come."