ST. PAUL, Minn. — Led by special teams and their incoming freshmen, the Minnesota Golden Gophers opened the 2000-01 season in promising fashion, overwhelming the Notre Dame Fighting Irish 7-3 in the season-opening U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame game at the brand-new Xcel Energy Center.
Minnesota scored three goals on the power play, including one of captain Erik Westrum’s two tallies on the night, and also got markers from three different rookies to climb to a six-goal lead early in the third period. Sophomore Jeff Taffe added a goal and two assists, and Minnesota goaltender Adam Hauser made 15 saves as the Gophers outshot the Fighting Irish 31-18 on the night.
Afterward, Gopher head coach Don Lucia explained his strategy in managing his freshmen, which involved spreading experience around by scattering the rookies amongst returning lines.
“When you put [freshmen] with the veterans, they don’t have to carry the line,” Lucia said.
Minnesota opened the scoring at 2:36 on a turnover in the Notre Dame zone. ND defenseman Evan Nielsen’s outlet pass was intercepted by a streaking Matt Koalska, whose point-blank shot clanged off the right post for his first collegiate goal, unassisted, and a 1-0 lead.
The Gophers kept the pressure on, and the Irish were forced to dump the puck repeatedly to clear play. A series of penalties late in the first, including a boarding call against Taffe, eventually gave Notre Dame a four-on-three, but the Irish were still unable to mount much offense. ND eventually went without a power-play shot on goal for two-plus periods en route to an 0-for-6 night with the man advantage.
Another Irish turnover — this one a failed clearing attempt — led to the second Minnesota goal, as Jordan Leopold’s slapper rebounded to rookie Grant Potulny at the left faceoff dot. Potulny’s soft forehand appeared to deflect off Notre Dame blueliner Neil Komadoski, rolling just inside the far post to make it 2-0 at 18:27.
The goal was also the first for a non-Minnesotan in a Gopher uniform in over a decade. Potulny, Minnesota’s first out-of-state recruit since the mid-1980s, hails from Grand Forks, N.D.
Westrum gave the Gophers a three-goal edge early in the second period, taking the rebound of Leopold’s sweeping stuff try and firing it through entangled bodies in the Irish crease. The net came off just as Westrum’s shot passed through, but referee Greg Shepherd ruled the score good.
Center Aaron Gill put Notre Dame in a deeper hole minutes later, taking a five-minute major penalty and a game misconduct for checking Taffe into the boards at center ice. But after a Hauser miscue — gloving the puck some 50 feet away from the net on a Notre Dame dump — returned the game to a four-on-four, sophomore Connor Dunlop briefly breathed life into his Irish teammates with a low wrister that slipped beneath Hauser at 11:13. The goal was set up by a neat feed from transfer Jon Maruk, who outfought Minnesota’s Matt DeMarchi along the far boards before hitting Dunlop coming through the neutral zone uncovered.
After the resumption of the major, however, Taffe scored off a strange bounce, hammering home the rebound of his own point shot after the puck kicked off the rear boards.
That made it 4-1 Minnesota, and strong Gopher forechecking set up Westrum’s second goal of the night at 17:26. Nick Anthony worked the puck loose behind the Notre Dame goal, where UM’s leading scorer of a year ago wrapped it around under Irish goaltender Tony Zasowski’s pads.
Zasowski was replaced by junior Jeremiah Kimento for the third period, but Troy Riddle and Pat O’Leary scored goals in the opening minutes of the frame to salt the game away for good.
The Irish made it a little closer on the scoreboard with a pair of goals late, as rookie Rob Globke got his first collegiate goal at 13:32 off a feed from Maruk, and fellow freshman Brett Lebda put his name on the scoring summary at 15:01 as he picked off a Minnesota clearing pass at the blue line and tucked the puck between Hauser and the near post.
“Overall, we didn’t play well — we played tight — but you can expect that early in the season,” commented Notre Dame head coach Dave Poulin. “We will go back work next week and will be ready to play next Friday.”
For the Irish, Zasowski finished with 21 saves over the first two periods while Kimento made three stops in the final frame.
Notre Dame travels to Omaha, Neb., next week to play in the Maverick Stampede. The Irish face Boston College in the tournament opener on Friday, with host Nebraska-Omaha facing Niagara in the nightcap. Minnesota, meanwhile, visits nearby Bemidji State next Saturday.