MINNEAPOLIS — Let’s not beat around the bush.
There’s a good chance that the University of Minnesota Gophers hockey team won’t be the same squad next season.
The Maroon and Gold are going to feel the absence of Brock Faber (Minnesota Wild) and Jackson LaCombe (Anaheim Ducks) on the blueline after they both signed NHL contracts. The departure of Matthew Knies to the Toronto Maple Leafs is just as big of a loss.
But what the Gophers do have though is depth at both forward and defense. That was on display all season and especially in the postseason.
Minnesota should be fine — even if they can’t replicate their 29-10-1 record and run to the NCAA National Championship Game this past season.
And the program also has young reinforcements coming.
Most importantly, the Gophers have Logan Cooley, Jaxon Nelson and Justen Close returning. The most important question heading into the 2023-24 campaign had been whether next season’s Gophers squad would feature Cooley, and that question was answered Friday. It’s still a waiting game for whether Bryce Brodzinski will return, and Ryan Johnson has yet to sign his NHL contract with the Buffalo Sabres.
EDIT: The official announcement of Bryce Brodzinski’s return to the Gophers came after the story was published.
9️⃣2️⃣ IS BACK‼️— Minnesota Men’s Hockey (@GopherHockey) May 19, 2023
Hobey Baker finalist Logan Cooley will return for his sophomore season with the #Gophers!#PrideOnIce pic.twitter.com/sjUaidi4QW
It can’t be overstated how important this news is for the Gophers, who will look to build off this past season without the likes of Faber, LaCombe, Knies and potentially others.
Cooley, who is returning rather than signing with the Arizona Coyotes, scored 22 goals and 60 points in 39 games as a freshman. Cooley’s 60-point campaign put him third in program history for most points in a freshman season. The 19-year-old’s 60 points was second to 2023 Hobey Baker Award winner Adam Fantilli from Michigan in NCAA scoring while Cooley ranked fourth in the goals department. Cooley tied Quinnipiac’s Collin Graff for the most assists (38) among NCAA forwards.
Cooley will look to build off his freshman year, where he showcased his elite skillset thanks to his skating, speed and playmaking ability, as well as a strong release that makes him a complete package — and everything the Gophers need next season.
Close finished the 2022-23 campaign with a .927 save percentage (fourth), 2.02 goals against average (fifth) and 26 wins on the year (second). Close returning solidifies the Gophers’ net for next season, where he could be depended on more next season.
Nelson saw his production rise this past season, scoring 10 goals and 27 points after he set a career-high with 15 points two years ago. The Gophers’ No. 2 center will be an important piece to the puzzle next year.
The Gophers are going to need their returners to replicate their production next season with the sea of uncertainty. But them returning is the first step to making another run.
All Data Via NCAA.com and EliteProspects