Gophers hockey earns win Saturday over Notre Dame to split series

 Rhett Pitlick scored twice and three other Golden Gophers had multi-point efforts leading the way to a 4-1 win for No. 6/6 Minnesota men’s hockey over No. 17/18 Notre Dame Saturday night inside 3M Arena at Mariucci.

The Golden Gophers (6-4-2 overall, 2-3-1 B1G) broke a 1-1 tie in the second period behind Ryan Chesley’s individual effort and eventual game winner. It was the first of three unanswered goals that secured three points in the Big Ten Conference standings, handing the Fighting Irish (7-4-2 overall, 3-1-2 B1G) their first regulation loss in league play. Bryce Brodzinski, Mike Koster and Connor Kurth all had two-assist performances for the Maroon and Gold, while goaltender Justen Close matched a season-high by making 37 saves.

The home team came out of the gates and tested the Notre Dame goaltender early, leading to the opening goal just 2:10 into the contest. For the second-straight night, Pitlick got the scoring started by being in the perfect spot in front of the net to bury an Irish turnover following Kurth’s flip into the zone. The visitors responded with their own offensive chances where Minnesota’s Close was in position to turn the shots away. A lengthy shift in the Gophers’ defensive zone proved costly with 3:22 remaining during the first frame as Notre Dame scored the equalizer, sending the teams to the locker room tied, 1-1.

Close came to the rescue beginning the second period when the fifth-year senior stopped the Irish on a pair of point-blank opportunities. A minute later, it was the Irish netminder’s turn to deny the Gophers after a flurry of chances and both teams searched for the go-ahead goal. The Maroon and Gold were able to break through midway through the stanza thanks to the first goal of the year from Chesley. The Mahtomedi, Minn., native’s initial shot snapped the stick of the Notre Dame player, which allowed him to collect the puck again and drive the net. Chesley sniped the short-side corner, giving the home side a 2-1 edge at the 8:27 mark. The sophomore nearly added another tally by joining the rush with Brodzinski only to see the pass deflect away from the crease.

Momentum stayed with the Maroon and Gold during a dominant second period and Jaxon Nelson made it a two-goal advantage at 15:20. The fifth-year senior found space at the side of the goal and finished off a cross-crease pass of Brodzinski and Mason Nevers. Nelson nearly scored again 39 seconds later, but his deflection was deemed to go in via a high stick and the Gophers lead remained 3-1 at intermission.

The Irish pushed the tempo to open the final frame and forced Close to make critical saves until the Gophers went to their first power-play of the night. Despite chances on target, Minnesota could not get one through as its 3-1 edge stayed until the clock reached under five minutes. Mike Koster forced a turnover at his own blue line and took a feed from Pitlick, starting a rush up ice. He patiently waited for an opening before firing a pass over to Pitlick and the Gophers stretched the lead to 4-1 on the junior’s fourth goal in the last three weeks. Notre Dame pulled its goalie for the final 2:27 but were shut down and Minnesota earned the series split with a three-goal victory.