With speed through neutral zone limited, Notre Dame’s offense falls short

Notre Dame’s Bo Brauer tries to get the puck past Minnesota Duluth goalie Hunter Shepard (photo: Jim Rosvold).

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Notre Dame wasn’t running teams out of the building going into the Frozen Four championship game, but after scoring 10 goals over the previous three tournament games the team’s offense was its downfall on Saturday.

The Irish were able to muster only one goal on Saturday when they fell to Minnesota Duluth 2-1 and missed the opportunity to win the first national championship in school history.

Junior forward Andrew Oglevie summed up Duluth’s defense in one sentence.

“They did a good job in the neutral zone containing our speed,” he said.

Senior captain Jake Evans said the difference was the way the Bulldogs worked together on defense and “did all the little things right.”

“They’ve got some quick [defensemen] and really good gaps, so if you’re not chipping pucks by them and you’re turning pucks over bad things are going to happen,” Evans said. “That was a result for one goal. They’re just a really good team and they did a really good job.”

Notre Dame scored its lone goal of the game at the 7:40 mark of the second period and cut Duluth’s lead to one. The middle period was where the Irish showed their best offensive effort.

For most of the game, however, the Irish struggled to simply get the puck into the offensive zone.

“I thought in the second we played a much better period,” coach Jeff Jackson said. “We needed to try and tie the game in the second because once you get to the third period they’re a shut-down team.

“They shut you down and they don’t allow much through the neutral zone,” he added. “We had some juice in the second period, especially after we scored that goal. The third period was just a shut-down period. They didn’t give us much.”

Jackson said that even when Notre Dame did get shots on goal, Minnesota Duluth managed to make sure they weren’t clean looks.

“They do a really good job of putting pressure on you. Even your shots are contested,” he said. “Their defensemen, they front you, they get body position on you and it’s hard to get pucks through. We really needed to do more to make the ice longer. We shortened the ice way too much with turnovers, and some of that was from blocked shots.”

Going into the game, the Irish were averaging exactly three goals per contest this season. But late in the third period, needing a goal to tie the national championship game, they couldn’t find a second goal.

Minnesota Duluth even made entering the zone and keeping possession long enough to pull goaltender Cale Morris a chore.

They were eventually able to pull the goalie and get an extra attacker on the ice but never produced anything that looked like it had a chance to tie the game.

“My biggest thing was I thought we had way too much separation between our defensemen and our forwards,” Jackson said of the team’s failures to get into the zone. “We needed to put more pucks behind their defense and we didn’t get that done. We had too many plays where the puck wouldn’t get in even below the tops of the circles. You’re not going to generate anything if you’re chasing and, unfortunately, we were forced to chase too much because of turnovers.”

Offensive power outage aside, Jackson said at the postgame news conference that his team has to tip its cap to the Bulldogs and recognize what was accomplished this year.

“We still walked away with two trophies and played in the national championship game,” Jackson said. “So, there’s a lot to be said for what they accomplished this year. They had a 16-game winning streak. We had a great year in the Big Ten. We ran into a better team tonight, and we have to respect that.”