Minneapolis, MN – The Bard himself said that “parting is such sweet sorrow.”
Fortunately, it’ll be another season before the Gophers part with some of the key pieces of the team’s back-to-back Frozen Four runs.
After an agonizing wait following an even more agonizing end to the season, seniors Jaxon Nelson and Justen Close announced they’d be returning for their fifth seasons earlier this week, and the team announced Friday May 19th that freshman phenom Logan Cooley would be back for his sophomore campaign. Saturday, Bryce Brodzinski announced he’d be returning as well.
The key pieces join fellow first round pick Jimmy Snuggerud as significant returnees; Snuggerud announced he’d be back shortly after the end of last season.
Cooley headlines the group. The third-overall pick in the 2022 NHL draft, Cooley was a Hobey Baker Hat Trick finalist alongside linemate Matthew Knies and eventual winner Adam Fantilli. Centering the best line in college hockey last year, Cooley’s 60 points (22G-38A) was good for second nationally (also behind Fantilli). The Pittsburgh, PA native got stronger as the year went on, scoring 35 points in just 20 games once the calendar turned to 2023.
His linemate Jimmy Snuggerud was a fellow 50-point scorer (21G-29A) in his freshman campaign, fifth in the nation in scoring. Snuggerud and Cooley excelled on the top line, displaying the chemistry that they had built as linemates for the US U-18 team prior to their time in the Maroon and Gold.
Cooley and Snuggerud will be looking for a new third linemate in 23-24 with Knies’ departure; early returns suggest that newcomer Oliver Moore (himself a likely top-10 pick in the upcoming NHL draft) might slot in on the wing.
Nelson centered the Gophers’ upperclassman line alongside Mason Nevers and fellow-returnee Brodzinski. The emergence of Nelson/Nevers/Brodzinski gave Minnesota the ability to roll three strong forward lines last season. Nelson’s 27 points (10G-17A) were seventh on the team last year, and he scored Minnesota’s second (and last) goal in the National Title game. Brodzinski (19G-12A) was fifth on the team in scoring (and fourth in goals behind the Cooley-Snuggerud-Knies trio).
One of the best stories in college hockey over the last season and a half, Close returns to man the net for one more shot at glory. A backup prior to Jack LaFontaine’s departure midway through the 21-22 season, Close was thrust into action and led the Gophers to back-to-back Frozen Four appearances. Close has been solid and steady throughout his term tending the twine for the Maroon and Gold, although I’m guessing he’d like a couple shots back from the title game.
We await decisions from senior Ryan Johnson. The general consensus seems to be that the defenseman will sign with an NHL team in the offseason. Over the months ahead, keep your eyes glued to the Gopher Hockey twitter page for any official announcements from the team.
With the core of last year’s runner-up team returning for another go, and the Frozen Four held in St. Paul, it’s another title-or-bust type of season for Minnesota. No matter the outcome, it should be another fun year at Mariucci Arena in 23-24!