Gophers Beat The Spartans 5-0 As Justen Close Records His Sixth Career Shutout

December 2nd, 2022: Justen Close earned his sixth career shutout, and Logan Cooley notched two goals and an assist in the 5-0 win over Michigan State.

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The last time the Gophers were in East Lansing Jack LaFontaine was Minnesota’s goaltender. The captain stopped 45 out of the 49 shots he faced that series as the Gophers swept the Spartans. But after the series concluded LaFontaine signed an NHL contract with the Carolina Hurricanes, leaving the Gophers halfway through the season.

Justen Close has immediately taken over as the Gophers’ starting goaltender and has notched a 23-10-0 record with 2.12 goals against average and a .918 save percentage with six shutouts.

Tonight Close stopped all 25 of the shots he faced for his third shutout of the year and LaFontaine got his eighth start of the year for the Orlando Solar Bears of the ECHL and recorded a 28-save shutout.

“We didn’t like the way we ended in Arizona,” Logan Cooley said. “So for us to come back, especially on the road, and win was huge. A nice bounce-back weekend for Closer as well.”

Michigan State has been an underrated team all season. Coming into the game the Spartans had a better record than the No. 4 ranked Gophers despite being ranked No. 13 in the polls. The Spartans play very well off the puck, they pressure you, always have sticks in lanes and generate offense on mistakes and rush chances.

“The biggest thing we talked about before was getting our focus back,” Gophers head coach Bob Motzko said on the post-game radio show. “We did a little too much out in Arizona and we were off. But this was good Gopher hockey tonight and it started with our goaltender.”

Tonight the Gophers did a fantastic job of clearing the puck from their own end and limiting the high-danger chances, something they didn’t do last weekend against ASU. Junior captain Brock Faber led the way for the Gophers with 11 controlled zone exits.

In the opening ten mintues of the first, Jackson LaCombe created a high-danger chance after a successful zone exit and zone entry. Mason Nevers, who now has points in his last three games, picked up the loose puck from LaCombe and sent one to the slot for Logan Cooley. The freshman forward notched his sixth goal of the season, giving the Gophers a first-period lead.

Looking like a much better team than last week, the Gophers got their second goal of the game on the forecheck. Aaron Huglen got the puck in the high slot after Brody Lamb did the dirty work on the boards. Huglen ripped a shot and Rhett Pitlick slammed home the rebound for his sixth goal of the year.

The Gophers’ top line is Matthew Knies, Cooley, and Jimmy Snuggerud. Knies has ten goals and 17 points in 17 games, Cooley has seven goals and 19 points in 16 games, and Snuggerud has ten goals and 22 points in 17 games. But the Gophers have gotten some secondary scoring from the upperclassmen line recently.

That line features the seniors in Jaxon Nelson and Bryce Brodzinski and junior Mason Nevers. Nelson has five goals and 15 points in 17 games, and Brodzinski has seven goals and 12 points in 17 games and nine points in his last eight games. Nevers has five goals and 13 points in 17 games.

Motzko said on the pregame show that they have two “A-grade” lines and would love to add a third. With Pitlick’s sixth goal of the year and his fifth goal in his last five games, one would think they have an “A-grade” third line as well. Huglen has three points in his previous five games.

The Gophers followed up two very good periods with three third-period goals starting with Brodzinski. At the eight-minute mark in the third, Faber exited the zone and sent one to Nevers in the neutral zone, Nevers walked in and put on the breaks. With Brodzinski streaking in, Nevers connected with the senior in the high slot and Brodzinski ripped one home for his seventh of the year.

That was Faber’s fifth straight game with a point. He also led the Gophers with 11 controlled zone exits, one of which led to a goal. The Gophers defenders were successful on 45 zone exits out of the 53 attempted. That’s a team percentage of 85.

“Our d-core played a very aggressive style for the first ten minutes and we withstood the pressure,” said Motzko. “Then we settled in and we just kept chipping away.”

Just a hair over a minute later, Knies got his tenth of the year after Snuggerud and Cooley went to work down low. Cooley chipped one to Snuggerud and the Gophers’ leading point-getter sent one to Knies in the slot.

About five minutes later Snuggerud returned the favor after creating a rebound on his shot. Cooley slammed home his second of the night and seventh of the year for the win. That was the Gophers’ tenth straight win over MSU and their sixth straight win in their building.

They are set for another tilt tomorrow where they will look to continue the streak against Michigan State at 5:00.

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