March 26th, 2022: Justen Close records his second shutout of the year stopping 24. Ben Meyers picks up two assists in the 3-0 win.
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For the first time since 2014, the Gophers are off to the Frozen Four for a chance at the national title. The battle between two Minnesota powerhouses will be the first time the Gophers face a Minnesota team in the Frozen Four. The men of marron and gold are heading to the Frozen Four for the 22nd time in their program history.
Hobey Baker finalist Ben Meyers was yet another huge factor in the Gophers’ latest win over Western Michigan. Meyers now has 16 points in his last eight games and 15 points since coming back from the Olympics. Matthew Knies picked up another goal which was his fourth in his last three games and his seventh point in his last six games. Jackson LaCombe added another point with the assist on Aaron Huglen’s power-play goal. LaCombe now carries 13 points in his last 11 games.
But let’s not forget the great story of Justen Close. Just a year ago Close was the third-string goaltender behind Jared Moe and Jack LaFontaine. In Close’s exit meeting following his Sophomore year Close sat with Bob Motzko and the rest of the coaching staff and said, “I’ll be here for this team, whenever you need me I’ll be ready.” Jared Moe eventually transferred to Wisconsin and Jack LaFontaine left the team mid-season to turn pro with the Carolina Hurricanes.
Since Close took over, the Gophers went 13-4-0 in the regular season and 8-0-0 in the month of February. Close led the Big Ten in goals against average with a 1.93 and finished fourth with a .925 save percentage. Tonight Close stopped 24 shots and led the Gophers to the Frozen Four for the first time since 2014.
Last @GopherHockey shutout in NCAA was 2014, at Xcel vs SCSU, Adam Wilcox sending MN to Philly. Today it’s Justen Close 3-0 – destination Boston 👏
— Frank Mazzocco (@MazzPuck) March 27, 2022
The first ten minutes of the Worcester regional final game between Western Michigan and the Gophers was fast and entertaining. Multiple blocked shots by the Gophers swung the momentum in their favor. Just over six minutes in, Matthew Knies blocked Philadelphia Flyers prospect Ronnie Attard’s bomb off his foot. Knies got up slow and skated to the bench in some serious discomfort.
But just three minutes after his blocked shot Knies hopped over the boards. Meyers, who has been on a tear recently, found Brock Faber streaking in. Faber put a move on a Bronco defender and found Knies out front. The Toronto Maple Leafs prospect made no mistake and rocketed one past Grant Bussi making it 1-0. Bussi finished with 23 saves on 25 shots.
Brock Faber. pic.twitter.com/RHwJurPK5i
— Ryan (@rcarpO4) March 27, 2022
With two shots in the opening four minutes, Western Michigan seemed to be on their game. That was until the Gophers held the Broncos without a shot for over 13 minutes. Western Michigan finished the period with four shots on seven attempts. The Gophers finished with three blocked shots in the first period and 15 total blocked shots.
“You have to earn your way through, you’re not going to do it by being cute all the time,” Gophers Head Coach Bob Motzko said. “Our program is growing in that category… the grit, the determination, blocking shots, and getting back on defense.”
At the eight-minute mark in the second period, Ronnie Attard joined the rush and knocked home Jason Polin’s rebound. Close never saw it and it appeared Attard tied the game at one. After review, the play was determined offsides by a hair and the goal was disallowed.
Up in the game 1-0, the Gophers were sent to the power play after Ethan Frank went to the box for slashing just ten seconds into the third period. 23 seconds later Aaron Huglen ripped his seventh of the year past Bussi making it a 2-0 game. Meyers and LaCombe picked up the helpers on the play.
Ope, Aaron's just gonna pop this in the net real quick. pic.twitter.com/7TWWBHMSRC
— Minnesota Men’s Hockey (@GopherHockey) March 27, 2022
The Broncos got many chances in the third but Justen Close stood tall. With 3:32 left on the clock, Matt Staudacher went to the box for hooking, giving the Broncos a late power play. Controlling the play in the zone the Broncos fired four pucks on Close in 30 seconds. Faber blocked two of them, one on the leg and the other on the hand. At the 2:19 mark Head coach, Pat Ferschweiler pulled Bussi for the extra attacker. Not much going through for the Broncos as eventually, Blake McLaughlin sealed the deal with his 13th of the year into the empty net.
Faber blocked one last shot and Close stopped one last puck under one minute left in the game and the Gophers shut out Western Michigan. The next opponent for the Gophers is between Minnesota rival, Mankato. The Minnesota State Mavericks went 37-5-0 and won the CCHA Championship with the 2-1 overtime win over Bemidji State earlier this year.
The game is scheduled for Thursday, April 7th with the time of the game either 4:30 CT or 7:30 CT. The time should be confirmed tonight. Follow @Dylanloucks4 on Twitter for updates.
Gophers will be hoping to get back Chaz Lucius for the Frozen Four. He has missed the last eight games due to an injury and last played on February 12th, against Ohio State.
“This was a really strong weekend for our team,” Bob Motzko said after recording his 360th win as a Divison 1 head coach. “Those two games were what you needed to do and what we wanted to do. I couldn’t be more proud of our group.”