Madison, WI – Usually, it’s Minnesota’s high-flying offense or all-time defensive corps that garners headlines for the #1 Gopher hockey team.
Every once in a while, though, the goalie makes a few headlines of his own.
Justen Close was brilliant Friday night when the rest of his team was subpar, making 21 saves in the first period alone (and 36 for the night) to lead the Minnesota Gophers (21-7-1 Overall (3-3 OT), 14-2-1-2 B1G) to a 4-1 win over the Wisconsin Badgers (10-19-0 (1-0), 3-16-0).
Wisconsin came out looking like the #1 team in the nation Friday night, piling on scoring chance after scoring chance and thoroughly dominating the game in the opening stanza. Logan Cooley’s late first period goal, entirely against the run of play, was shocking – the 15:57 tally was only Minnesota’s second shot on net of the game.
The Gophers were able to escape the first with a 1-0 lead, and built on it early in the second, when Jimmy Snuggerud sniped a wrister past former Gopher goalie Jared Moe just 1:04 into the second. Minnesota expanded the lead at 8:35 on a Bryce Brodzinski snipe to put the Maroon and Gold up 3-0, and at that point Moe got the hook for backup goalie Kyle McClellan.
McClellan did a nice job keeping the Badgers in the game, but Minnesota’s Brodzinski did score another goal early in the third to put the Gophers up by an insurmountable 4-0 lead. UW’s Brock Caufield scored 15 seconds after the Brodzinski goal to give the Badgers life, but Minnesota salted the rest of the period away and earned three league points for their 4-1 victory.
The win moved Minnesota to within one win (three points) of clinching the Big Ten title outright over Michigan. The surging Wolverines are the only team that mathematically has a chance of catching or surpassing the Gophers, but it would require a Gopher collapse and Michigan winning out to make it happen.
Minnesota has its first chance to clinch the title Saturday night in Madison.