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Minnesota Hockey: Gophers, Justen Close shutout Notre Dame after tie the night before

The Gophers earned a tie Friday night thanks to a late goal by Jackson LaCombe, and Justen Close aided the Maroon & Gold in Saturday night’s 3-0 win

Matt Krohn

The No. 2-ranked Minnesota Gophers men’s hockey team got back in the win column Saturday night with a 3-0 shutout victory over the Notre Dame Fighting Irish a night after earning a tie at Compton Family Ice Arena in South Bend, Indiana.

Justen Close stopped 58 of 60 shots for a .967 save percentage this weekend and displayed exactly why he’s on the 2023 Mike Richter Award Watch List. The senior goaltender’s consistency continues to make him a dependable presence between the pipes as the Gophers hope to continue their success in the second half of the season.

While Close earned his fourth shutout of the season and became the major highlight, the Gophers scored an even-strength, power play and shorthanded goal en route to the win — something you don’t see too often.

Ryan Johnson’s first period goal at the 2:15 mark provided a much-needed 1-0 lead for the Gophers heading into the second period. The senior defenseman’s one time slapper from the blue line deflected off a Notre Dame player in front.

It was Ryan Johnson’s first goal since Nov. 18 against Michigan and his second goal and 10th point of the season. Freshman sensation Logan Cooley scored one of his better goals of the season to give the Gophers a 2-0 goal lead. After seamlessly entering the offensive zone with possession, the 18-year-old waited patiently, skated to the left circle and then shot the puck top shelf over Ryan Bischel’s glove during a 5-on-3 power play opportunity.

Cooley is up to 12 goals and 28 points on the year, so it will be interesting to see how close him and Jimmy Snuggerud (12-17-29) will get to Ben Meyers’ 17-goal, 41-point 2021-22 campaign with the Gophers. Or perhaps pass him if the duo can turn it up down the stretch.

Matthew Knies scored from none other than in front of the net to get the Gophers a commanding 3-0 lead. Skating up the right side shorthanded, Knies deked a defender near the blue line, drove to the net and shot the puck past Bischel — who went for the poke check — in front after the puck went off a defender’s stick in the right circle.

Where does this rank among the Gophers’ top goals this season? It has to be somewhere near the top.

The Gophers 3-2 shootout loss against Notre Dame a night earlier was officially recorded as a tie, but there’s no doubt the win Saturday night on the road is a boost of confidence heading into next weekend’s series against Michigan at home. The Gophers only went to an extra session and eventually a shootout because of Jackson LaCombe’s late equalizer with an extra attacker.

The Gophers have a 10 point cushion over Penn State, Michigan State and Ohio State — who all sit second in the Big Ten Conference with 24 points — after earning four of a possible six points in the series. Minnesota is 8-1-1 in their past ten games.