Who: Notre Dame (3-1-2) vs. Minnesota (2-3-0)
When: 7:35 p.m. ET tonight; 6:40 p.m. ET Saturday
Where: Compton Family Ice Arena; South Bend, Ind. (5,022)
Radio: 99.9 FM (WHFB)
TV: American Sports Network (Friday); NBC Sports Network (Saturday)
Cal Petersen learned a harsh lesson in college hockey last season around this time.
Petersen skated into the Notre Dame goal at Mariucci Arena to face top-ranked Minnesota in the first road start of his career. The Gophers were unrelenting that night, peppering Petersen with 44 shots en route to a 5-0 victory.
Minnesota didn't let up the next night, scoring three first period goals on nine shots and chasing Petersen from the game in favor of backup goaltender Chad Katunar on the way to a 4-2 win.
“It was kind of a hard place to start facing the No. 1 team and also one of the harder places to play,” Petersen said. “But I think it was a big growing moment for me. Where there I was young and maybe a little bit overwhelmed by who we were playing and the atmosphere, as the season progressed I was able to play in other big buildings and be successful.”
Petersen appears to be rounding into form in time for Notre Dame to host the Gophers this weekend for a two-game series.
Hockey East tabbed the sophomore goaltender as its defensive player of the week after he posted a .917 save percentage and allowed just three goals as the Irish swept Connecticut last weekend. He did so while facing just 36 shots over two games.
Connecticut put only 15 shots on Petersen in the first game, a far cry from what he might see against a more high-powered Minnesota offense over the next couple days.
Minnesota is averaging 25.4 shots on goal per game this season.
“That’s something coach (Jeff) Jackson has always preached toward me,” Petersen said. “I have to be just as good in the games where I get only 15 or 25 shots as the games where I get 40 shots. I think that’s where I have the biggest opportunity for growth. Especially last weekend, I feel like I’ve grown from last year. I think that was probably good for him to see and for myself confidence-wise to be able to put in the same amount of work and have the same impact in a lower shot total against game.”
Notre Dame goaltenders are no stranger to facing lower shot counts.
Jackson preaches a puck possession style that, when it’s operating at a high level, keeps the opponent from mustering too many shots. Past Irish goalies like Jordan Pearce have been in the same position, facing shot totals in the teens rather than a high volume.
“It’s a mental toughness,” Jackson said. “It’s a matter of focus. You can’t sit back there and day dream. You’ve got to keep engaged in the game, whether it’s handling the puck or stopping rims. There’s other things. You’re still constantly moving and getting into position regardless because the puck’s gonna be in your zone even if you’re not going to face a ton of shots. You can always be more active with your stick. You can do some different things to keep yourself in the game.”
Lucias battle again
Minnesota head coach Don Lucia will face his son, Mario, for the final time in college this weekend barring a postseason matchup.
Lucia graduated from Notre Dame in 1981 and played four years as a defenseman for coach Lefty Smith. He’s now been a college head coach for 29 seasons, 17 of which have been at Minnesota, which he’s built into a perennial powerhouse.
“Don and I have always gotten along and have been friends,” Jackson said. “I don’t think he would’ve let Mario come here if he hadn’t trusted me or the respect for the University. I get a kick out of the fact, any time we get a Minnesota kid, if we’re in competition with them I think they say we’re too defensive. I keep on saying, ‘Well, do you think Mario Lucia would be here if we were too defensive?’ Or Ryan Guentzel. Both coach’s son’s have been here.”
Mario, a senior forward, has two goals and one assist in five games against his father. The Irish are 1-4-0 in those matchups.
Penalty kill in peak form
Notre Dame goes into the weekend riding a wave of penalty kill success having stopped 21 consecutive opponent power plays. The Irish were perfect against Connecticut (9-for-9) and Minnesota-Duluth (12-for-12).
That success comes after allowing four goals on six penalty kills to start the season.
“Cal is a big part of it, certainly,” Jackson said. “But we have four or five defensemen that play it pretty well and we’ve got right now six or seven forwards that are doing pretty good on it. It’ll be tested more seriously this weekend. Minnesota’s a team that’s started pretty slow but they’re a skilled and fast team. They’re not as veteran-oriented as they’ve been in the past but they’re still the same type of team.”