MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — Notre Dame forward Riley Sheahan had every right to be frustrated.
Having been thwarted twice on glorious scoring chances – once by Minnesota goaltender Kent Patterson and once by the crossbar – Sheahan’s persistence finally paid off in the annual U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Game.
Sheahan tallied twice in a 3:22 stretch late in the second period and assisted on Jeff Costello’s third-period game winner to lift No. 5 Notre Dame (13-6-3, 8-3-3-0 CCHA) to a 4-3 win over No. 3 Minnesota (15-7-1, 11-3-0 WCHA) in front of 10,242 at Mariucci Arena.
Notre Dame leading scorer T.J. Tynan who, like teammate Stephen Johns, was playing his first game back after a stint with Team USA at the World Junior Championship, registered a goal and an assist while defenseman Sean Lorenz chipped in a pair of assists.
The game also marked the return of Minnesota’s Nick Bjugstad and Kyle Rau from their time with Team USA.
Irish goaltender Steven Summerhays was outstanding in earning the win with 31 saves. Patterson was very good as well for Minnesota in stopping 26 Notre Dame shots in the loss.
“I’m really proud of the effort the guys put up, I mean, they played a really good hockey game,” said Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson.
“We didn’t come out the way we needed to come out and that set the tempo,” said Minnesota coach Don Lucia. “We didn’t have any pace to our game. We talked about coming out and having a good first 10 minutes, but I thought they dictated play early and were able to seize control of the game.
“I thought we got better at times as the game went on, but we couldn’t find the rhythm to our game.”
After Patterson robbed him on a first period one-timer, Sheahan might have felt a little snake-bit following his near-miss in the second. With the game tied 1-1, Sheahan stole the puck from Minnesota defenseman Seth Helgeson just inside the Gopher blue line, bore down on Patterson and lifted a backhand shot which rang off the iron behind the Gopher goaltender at 13:38.
But Sheahan received his just reward just 53 seconds later when he one-timed Tynan’s feed past Patterson with Minnesota’s Seth Ambroz serving a charging penalty.
Shortly thereafter, with the Gophers on a power play of their own, Minnesota’s Ben Marshall mishandled the puck at the left point sending Sheahan on a breakaway. The junior fired over Patterson’s outstretched glove to put the Irish up 3-1 heading into the final period.
“I get pretty frustrated sometimes because I do get quite a bit of scoring chances and it’s just sometimes hard to bury them,” said Sheahan. “Once you keep putting the puck on net, you’re bound to get a few.
“My linemates were doing a great job setting me up, the bounces were there, and luckily I got to put a few in.”
“He’s definitely been much better this year in being able to finish and I think a lot of it has to do with his intensity in and around the net,” Jackson said of Sheahan. “He’s got the skating and the hands, he’s got all the tools to be a good offensive player and he’s just coming into his own right now as an offensive player.
“He’s been a great player for us the last couple years, but now he’s pulling his whole game together.”
Minnesota had a golden opportunity to take an early lead when Notre Dame’s Nick Larson (no relation to Minnesota’s Nick Larson) hit Rau from behind just 4:19 into the game. The major penalty sent Larson to the dressing room early and gave the nation’s seventh-ranked power play (23.8 percent) five minutes with which to operate.
But the Gophers managed a mere two shots on goal with the man advantage and gave up a pair of shorthanded 2-on-1s to the Irish in the process.
“I think it rallied us, if anything it might have helped us a little bit,” said Jackson. “Our guys were focused and they did a great job in that five minutes.
“It was the difference in the game probably.”
The lengthy penalty kill did indeed give Notre Dame a huge lift as the Irish outshot Minnesota 11-2 over the period’s final half and took the game’s first lead.
With Minnesota’s Tom Serratore off for holding, Tynan’s shot from the left circle hit traffic in front of the Minnesota net, but Larson’s clearing attempt ended up right back on Tynan’s stick. The Irish’s leading scorer made the most of his second attempt firing it past Patterson for a 1-0 Notre Dame lead at 17:54.
Minnesota bounced back to tie it at 9:16 of the second period on a power play in which virtually all of the 1:54 man advantage was spent in the Irish zone. Marshall’s shot from just inside the Notre Dame blue line was deflected by Taylor Matson into Summerhays’ pads, but two more whacks later the Gopher captain potted his seventh of the season.
Costello’s goal at 13:44 of the third off of a faceoff won by Sheahan gave Notre Dame what was thought to be a comfortable cushion, but goals by Bjugstad and Zach Budish 31 seconds apart in the 17th minute of the third drew the Gophers to within one with 2:16 to play.
That’s where the rally ended.
Jackson believes his team’s recent schedule has prepared them well for a return to conference play, but acknowledges a rough road awaits the Irish in the CCHA.
“Playing [Boston University] and then Minnesota right after [the holiday] break has been challenging, but I would much rather have our guys fully in tune playing high end teams like that than playing meaningless games,” said Jackson. “It’s going to be a tough second half because the CCHA’s as good as I’ve ever seen it.”
Next up for Minnesota is the much-anticipated rematch vs. North Dakota in Grand Forks Jan. 13-14. The Gophers swept the last series between the two in November at Mariucci Arena and UND will attempt to return the favor (7:30 p.m. CST Friday and 7 p.m. Saturday). The Irish return to CCHA action with a home-and-home series with Western Michigan (7:35 p.m. Friday EST at Notre Dame and 7 p.m. Saturday in Kalamazoo).