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Justen Close shutout is just one highlight as Gophers blow out Michigan State

The goalie stood strong early and the offense took over late as the Minnesota Gophers beat an upstart Michigan State team for the 10th time in a row, opening up a close contest late for their most lopsided win of the season.

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Minnesota Gophers goalie Justen Close manned the net during a game versus the Arizona State Sun Devils on Saturday, November 26, 2022 at Mullett Arena in Tempe, Arizona.
Contributed / Sun Devil Athletics
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EAST LANSING, Mich. — Over the summer, Michigan State completed a major revamp of Munn Ice Arena, the long-time home of the Spartans. They upgraded the locker rooms, they added training and gathering spaces and they moved the visitors bench to the far side of the rink.

If any of that newness threw the Minnesota Gophers off, it didn’t show on the ice, as their business-like approach led to a 5-0 win – their sixth in a row at the Spartans’ home rink.

A pair of goals by Logan Cooley, along with single tallies by Rhett Pitlick, Matthew Knies and Bryce Brodzinski complemented a 25-save night from Justen Close for his third shutout of the season. Minnesota — ranked atop one of the two national polls – improved to 12-5-0 overall and 7-2-0 in the Big Ten.

“A lot of good Gopher hockey going on out there tonight,” Motzko said. “It started with our goalie. He had to make two monster saves when the game was close. We only broke it open there at the end.”

The Spartans, who had won their previous six games in a row, got nothing to show for a few strong pushes at the Minnesota net. Dylan St. Cyr had 34 saves for Michigan State, which fell to 11-5-1 and 5-3-1.

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“It was a tough game for us. Obviously we’re playing a really good opponent,” Spartans coach Adam Nightingale said, adding that it was a learning experience for a young team. “We found some things out that we liked, and some that we didn’t. We’ll be better tomorrow.”

Adam Nightingale mug.jpg
Adam Nightingale

Cooley, who scored a highlight reel goal from behind the net a week earlier, got help from behind the net to get the Gophers on the board first. Mason Nevers fed the rookie a pass from behind St. Cyr, and Cooley’s quick-release shot was in the net before the goalie could react.

“All lines were going tonight and obviously (Close) was a big piece of that win,” said Cooley, who referenced the 6-5 overtime loss at Arizona State in their previous outing. “Obviously we didn’t like the way we played in Arizona, so for us to come back on the road and get that win was big for us.”

In the second period, the team’s top line of Cooley, Knies and Jimmy Snuggerud had a brief shift but were whistled for offside. In his postgame radio interview, Motzko said a new team rule is that when you go offside, you head to the bench. He put the line of Brady Lamb, Aaron Huglen and Pitlick on the rink in their place, and the move paid off immediately. St. Cyr stopped a long shot by Huglen, but could not control the rebound, and Pitlick backhanded it past the goalie.

The Spartans pushed hard and started to take chances down by two goals in the third. The Gophers used that risk-taking to open things up in their end, and kept pressing, ending up with their most lopsided win of the season.

“We had three lines score tonight and all four lines played well,” Motzko said. “It’s a good grow-up game for us. The biggest thing was getting our focus after Arizona. We got our focus back. Really proud of the guys tonight.”

Extra pucks

Healthy scratches for the Gophers on Friday included defensemen Matt Staudacher and Carl Fish, and forwards Charlie Strobel and Colin Schmidt.

It was the second consecutive game without a penalty for the Gophers, who have now gone 151:22 without a player in the penalty box.

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The Gophers close out the Big Ten series on Saturday evening with a 5 p.m. CT start at Michigan State. They will be seeking an 11th consecutive win over the Spartans.

READ MORE MINNESOTA GOPHERS COVERAGE:
Minnesota has lost 6 straight games, one behind the 7 consecutive defeats Richard Pitino’s last team at Minnesota suffered in February-March 2021.
The Gophers have lost two in a row and six of seven overall.
Center Trey Thompson broke his nose at Northwestern but plans to play Wednesday vs. Rutgers
And why shouldn’t she? Indiana brings a 20-1 record and No. 4 national ranking into Wednesday’s game at the Barn
The Gophers (9-12 overall, 2-8 Big Ten) led only once, 2-0, on a layup by Rose Micheaux in the game’s first 16 seconds.
Trailing in the second period, the Minnesota Gophers got solid goaltending and woke up offensively to sweep their weekend series versus visiting Michigan State.
After an 81-61 loss at Northwestern on Saturday, Minnesota is 1-9 in Big Ten play with 10 games remaining
It took only nine ticks of the clock for Minnesota Gophers rookie Logan Cooley to give his team a lead, and that was just the beginning of their dominance of the Spartans on Friday.
Junior wing who led Minnesota in scoring last season has struggled offensively at times this season
With two more players unavailable Wednesday, the Gophers had roughly half that roster max against Indiana at Williams Arena.
Minnesota is the worst free-throw shooting team in the nation, making a woeful 59.3% this year to rank 352 out of 352 Division I programs.
Minnesota gave itself ‘a chance,’ coach Ben Johnson said, but foul trouble for leading scorer Dawson Garcia was an issue

Minnesota 5, Michigan State 0

Minnesota 1-1-3—0

Michigan State 0-0-0—0

First period — 1. MN, Logan Cooley 6 (Mason Nevers, Jackson LaCombe), 7:54. Penalties — None.

Second period — 2. MN, Rhett Pitlick 6 (Aaron Huglen), 17:03. Penalties — None.

Third period — 3. MN, Bryce Brodzinski 7 (Nevers, Brock Faber), 11:26. 4. MN, Matthew Knies 10 (Jimmy Snuggerud, Cooley), 12:38. 5. MN, Cooley 7 (Snuggerud), 18:54. Penalties — None.

Shots on goal — MN 12-11-16—39 MS 5-8-12—25. Goalies — Justen Close, MN (25 shots-25 saves); Dylan St. Cyr, MS (39-34). Power plays — MN 0-of-0, MS 0-of-0. Referees — Jonathon Sitarski, Brett DesRosiers. Linesmen — Christopher Libett, Nicholas Bet. Att. — 6,555.

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Jess Myers covers college hockey, as well as outdoors, general sports and travel, for The Rink Live and the Forum Communications family of publications. He came to FCC in 2018 after three decades of covering sports as a freelancer for a variety of publications, while working full time in politics and media relations. A native of Warroad, Minn. (the real Hockeytown USA), Myers has a degree in journalism/communications from the University of Minnesota Duluth. He lives in the Twin Cities. Contact Jess via email at jrmyers@forumcomm.com, or find him on Twitter via @JessRMyers. English speaker.
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