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No. 3 Gophers men’s hockey sweep No. 12 Fighting Irish

Goalie Justen Close saved 45/46 shots in the series.
Image by Ethan Fine
Ryan Chesley looks to pass the puck during the Gophers’ game against Notre Dame, Friday, Nov. 4. Minnesota won, 4-1.

The twelfth ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish took their first Big Ten Conference road trip to Minneapolis this weekend to battle the No. 3 Minnesota Gophers at 3M Arena at Mariucci.

Snuggerud and Knies dice up the Irish

It was a banner night for one of the best lines in college hockey. The Matthew Knies, Logan Cooley and Jimmy Snuggerud trio destroyed Notre Dame Friday, leading a heavy offensive onslaught and scoring four goals on a whopping 54 shots on goal.

“That was a good game for us,” said Gophers head coach Bob Motzko. “The shorthanded goal kind of put a little dagger in and then our guys went to work. Pretty strong effort throughout our entire lineup tonight.”

The first period was similar to two boxers beginning to feel each other out. Even though the Gophers dominated puck possession, the score would stay tied nil-nil heading into the first intermission with Minnesota leading shots on goal 13-10.

The best hockey the Irish played all series was the theme of the start of the second period; they stopped rushing everything and got into control on both sides of the puck. With some great opportunities coming off a powerplay and longer puck possession from setting up their offense for smoother sailing, they were only down in shots on goal 16-15 on Minnesota.

Then, Mason Nevers started a Golden Gopher avalanche and Notre Dame’s little time basking in the spotlight dimmed. Nevers slotted his fourth goal of the season and Minnesota swiped a 1-0 lead over the Irish. Knies followed that up with a shorthanded puck steal in Notre Dame’s zone, glided his way and eventually slid in his sixth goal of the season, tying fellow linemate Jimmy Snuggerud for the team lead and boosting the Gopher lead to 2-0.

The third period was the culmination of a growing Gophers offensive effort. Snuggerud received an impressive no-look backward feed from Knies and took the lead in team goal scoring with seven. Minnesota led 3-0 with a 40-21 shots on goal advantage, a far cry from where they were at the beginning of the middle period.

“I heard him screaming and he made a good play,” Knies said. “Obviously, it’s an onside one timer. That’s a hell of a shot he had, so I’m really happy for him.”

The freshman phenom wasn’t finished. On a 5-on-3 powerplay, Knies found Snuggerud all alone left of the slot, which resulted in No. 81’s eighth goal of the season. With 46 seconds left in the match, the lone Irish goal came on a ticky tack play that was reviewed for goalie interference.

Hometown kid, Justin Janicke (Maple Grove), sniped the puck past the pads of Gophers goalie Justen Close, who had one of his best nights in between the pipes this year. The game would soon come to an end with a final score of 4-1 with the Gophers dominating shots on goal 54-25.

“It’s been wonderful,” said Knies on his chemistry on a line with two young guns, Snuggerud and Cooley. “Those two guys are obviously really skilled players and are starting to learn how to play like that. I want to get ‘em the puck and make their days easier. It’s definitely a privilege to play with those two.”

Off the ice, Knies playfully said the two freshmen are “weirdos” and are like “two little mice that are hard to get to calm and sit down because they are always roaming around.”

Close completes fifth shutout of his career

The Fighting Irish kept the Gophers to a more even keel game on Saturday, but to no avail in the win column, as Minnesota completed the two game sweep.

“We knew it was going to be a battle,” Motzko said. “We got the first one and a powerplay goal, then it kind of turned into an arm-wrestling match. We won some battles and lost some and closer (Close) was good when we needed him, but a great grown-up game for our group.”

The first period mirrored the beginning of Friday’s game but was even more quick with few stoppages. Neither team drew blood, even though the Gophers put up a valiant effort beating Notre Dame in shots on goal 9-3.

The second period came and boy did it go well for Minnesota. The Gophers took a commanding lead in shots on goal and notched two goals during the process. The first score came from Jaxon Nelson flipping the puck into the top left shelf of Ryan Bischel’s net and the second came from Knies tapping in his seventh goal of the season. At the end of 40 minutes, Minnesota led Notre Dame 2-0 and 26-10 in shots on goal, outshooting the Irish 17-7.

Nelson finished with a relentless offensive effort, firing seven shots on goal and winning 8/17 faceoffs.

“Jaxon Nelson right now is stepping up in a huge way for us,” Motzko said. “There were three or four names that we wrote on the board last year that were going to take big steps this year. He was one of them.”

The third period was rather quiet with not much action around each team’s nets. Cooley finished the game’s scoring off with a breakaway empty netter with five seconds left to lift the Gophers to a 3-0 win over the Fighting Irish and their first two-game sweep since their first series of the season versus Lindenwood. They led in shots on goal 31-21 at the conclusion, and Close completed his second shutout of the year and his fifth of his collegiate career.

“It felt good,” said Close after nearly shutting out the Fighting Irish the night before. “They had a few chances, there was one that dribbled by the short side that could’ve spoiled it, but yeah it felt pretty good.”

Minnesota will stay at Mariucci next week as they play the No. 13 Penn State Nittany Lions on Thursday (televised on Bally Sports North) and Friday (televised on Bally Sports North Extra). Both games will commence at 7 p.m.

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