Renowned rookie puts on a show as Gophers cruise past Lindenwood in season opener
After much hype prior to his arrival, Logan Cooley was worth the wait, as the rookie scored twice and the Minnesota Gophers spoiled the D-I debut of the Lindenwood Lions.
MINNEAPOLIS — A month ago, Minnesota Gophers coach Bob Motzko was preaching patience for those expecting an immediate impact from rookie forward Logan Cooley, who came to the U of M after being selected third overall in the 2022 NHL Draft. After Cooley’s college hockey debut, that patience may be put on pause.
Cooley scored two goals and set up another, while flashing an amazing set of skills with his stick and skates, as the Gophers opened their 2022-23 season with a 4-0 win over Lindenwood in the first-ever Division I game played by the visiting Lions.
"He was awful good tonight, and I think he's been doing that his whole life," Motzko said of Cooley, who is from Pittsburgh, and was one of the most sought-after players in the nation before choosing Minnesota. "Let's hope he likes this building and keeps it going."
Matthew Knies and Jaxon Nelseon each also had a goal and an assist and Justen Close posted 16 saves for his fourth career shutout and his second clean sheet in his past three starts, dating back to last season.
The Lions got 30 saves from goalie Trent Burnham and killed a major penalty, but got nothing else but lessons in their debut at college hockey’s top level.
"It's an amazing talent team that we competed against," Lions coach Rick Zombo said, praising his goalie for a valiant effort and his team for their overall fitness. "We knew going in that you've got to keep their better players off the ice, but they've got 20 better players, so how are you supposed to do that?"
Perfect pass in the premiere
Cooley and Jimmy Snuggerud had played together with amazing chemistry for USA Hockey's National Team Development Program last season, and after trying to separate them for the first few weeks of practice, Motzko reunited the duo. Sophomore forward Rhett Pitlick got the left wing spot with Cooley and Snuggerud, and showed he belonged in that trio immediately.
Cooley's first collegiate goal came following a pretty backhand pass across the goalmouth. Burnham sprawled to make the save, but as he was skating away, Cooley was able to flip a backhand shot over the prone goalie for a 2-0 Gophers lead.
"You saw the pass he made. He's super skilled, really a dynamic player," Cooley said of Pitlick, whose father, Lance, and brother, Rem, both played for the Gophers. "He makes plays like that all the time in practice, so I wasn't too surprised by that."
Cooley admitted that after the initial save, he was just trying to get the puck back on net.
"He made a really nice save. I don't know how he read that but I was just trying to chip it over his pad, and luckily it went in," Cooley said.
Perfect, and getting a pause
Close, who has started every Gophers game since mid-January of last season, was not named one of the game's three stars despite not allowing a goal and keeping things calm when the Lions made a few pushes in the second period. But for the Gophers, they saw what they've come to expect from the netminder who backstopped their Frozen Four run last season.
"He's a really good goalie. Last year we leaned on him quite a bit later in the year and he showed up," Nelson said. "He was ready to play tonight and was a good backbone for us. Always has been."
Motzko confirmed that freshman Owen Bartoszkiewicz will get his first collegiate start on Sunday versus the Lions, but had nothing but praise for Close.
"He looked good in there. He was calm and he controlled a few loose pucks that were around," Motzko said.
Superstition in the making
In the run-up to his college debut, Cooley told The Rink Live that he has no superstitions about what he has to eat on gameday, pregame naps, etc., although he admitted that he is very particular about his sticks.
On Saturday, after the Gophers had a morning skate, Cooley and a few teammates may have started a new gameday ritual, checking in on the Gophers football team's loss to Purdue across the street from the rink.
"I don't know if I should say this or not, but me, (Knies) and (Jimmy Snuggerud) went to the third quarter of the football game," Cooley said. "I don't like sitting in my room all day. I like to get out and get going. So that might have to be a ritual after that game."
With the Minnesota Vikings playing at 8:30 a.m. CT from London on Sunday, Motzko wouldn't say whether he would give the team a break from their morning skate, but gave a wink and assured the media that he would spend the morning watching the purple.
A grand gesture
Before the first puck was dropped on Saturday, Bob and Shelly Motzko announced an effort to remember their son, Mack, and help students. The Mack’s 18 Scholarship program will award $1,000 towards tuition for a U of M student in attendance at each of the Gophers’ 18 home games this season. Mack Motzko, who was killed in a crash involving a drunk driver in July 2021 at age 20, wore number 18 during his playing days at St. Cloud Cathedral and in junior hockey.
“This fall would have been Mack's freshman year in college and Shelly and I wanted to carry on the legacy of our son and his caring for others,” Bob Motzko said, in a statement released by the school. “Mack had a passion for college hockey and we felt that paying it forward to students who support college hockey, and specifically Gopher Hockey, was a tremendous way to keep Mack's spirit alive.”
The first Mack’s 18 Scholarship was handed out by Goldy Gopher, the team’s mascot, during the second intermission, to Evan Hobday, a freshman mechanical engineering major from Lino Lakes, Minnesota. Hobday, clad in a gold Minnesota hoodie, said he just yelled really loud to get the mascot’s attention, and said the money will come in handy to pay his tuition.
During the 2021-22 season, each Gopher player had a sticker with “MACK 18” on their helmet.
The Gophers-Lindenwood series concludes with a 7 p.m. rematch on Sunday evening.
Four Gophers — defensemen Matt Staudacher and Carl Fish, and forwards Colin Schmidt and Charlie Strobel — were healthy scratches on Saturday.
The game was the 3152nd ever played by the Gophers in their 101-plus seasons of varsity hockey, and their 1882nd all-time win.
While they are still looking for their first-ever goal, the Lions first shot on goal, first penalty and first major penalty were all credited to sophomore left winger Caige Sterzer.
Minnesota 4, Lindenwood 0
First period — 1. MN, Jaxon Nelson 1 (Matthew Knies, Logan Cooley), 8:21, (PP). Penalties — Drew Kuzma, LU (tripping), 8:01; Caige Sterzer, LU (tripping), 9:07.
Second period — 2. MN, Cooley 1 (Rhett Pitlick, Ryan Chesley), 5:38. 3. MN, Knies 1 (Nelson, Jackson LaCombe), 7:46, (PP). Penalties — Max Neil, LU (slashing), 7:24; Ryan Johnson, MN (interference), 10:08; Knies, MN (indirect contact to the head), 14:56; Sterzer, LU (5 & game misconduct – slew footing), 19:00.
Third period — 4. MN, Cooley 2 (Pitlick, Johnson), 11:48. Penalties — Cade DeStefani, LU (interference), 5:34; Aaron Huglen, MN (hooking), 9:27.
Shots on goal — MN 13-10-11—34; LU 3-7-6—16. Goalies — Justen Close, MN (16 shots-16 saves); Trent Burnham, LU (34-34). Power plays — MN 2-of-5, LU 0-of-3. Referees — Andrew Bruggeman, Kenny Anderson. Linesmen — Nicholas Bradshaw, Sam Shikowsky. Att. — 6,867.