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Three freshmen Gophers to potentially see increased role next season

First-year Gophers Oliver Moore, Jimmy Clark and Nathan Airey are in a prime position to fill the roles of the departing graduate class.
Image by David Stager
Oliver Moore led Gophers freshmen in scoring with nine goals and 24 assists.

Graduate forwards Bryce Brodzinski and Jaxon Nelson and goaltender Justen Close played their final games as a Gopher on March 30 in the regional championship of the men’s NCAA Tournament against Boston University.

The departure of the longtime Gophers opens up roster space and three leadership roles for first-year forwards Oliver Moore and Jimmy Clark and goaltender Nathan Airey.

Brodzinski and Nelson were two of Minnesota’s top scorers this season. Brodzinski was tied for most points on the team with 36. Nelson finished fifth with 31 points.

Close was named a semifinalist for the Mike Richter Award, an honor given to the NCAA’s top goaltender, for the second consecutive year. The veteran netminder recorded 22 wins and a .923 save percentage and is tied for first in program history in career save percentage and shutouts.

Oliver Moore

The Mounds View, Minnesota native played in every game for the Gophers this season. He confirmed his plans to return to Minnesota next season with The Minnesota Daily after the regional championship loss.

Moore was selected with the 19th overall pick in the 2023 NHL Draft by the Chicago Blackhawks.

Earlier in the season, Gophers head coach Bob Motzko described Moore as a player with an elite work ethic and skating ability.

The 2024 Big Ten All-Freshman recipient led all first-year Gophers in scoring with 33 points and was tied for second in points among freshmen during conference competition, totaling 20 points in 24 games played.

Moore said watching Nelson and junior forward Aaron Huglen compete as centers on a nightly basis allowed him to improve his own game.

“[They have] a ton of knowledge, for sure,” Moore said.

During the NCAA Tournament, Moore was paired on a line with sophomore forwards Jimmy Snuggerud and Connor Kurth.

Their line was held goalless across both games in the tournament. Moore managed one assist across both the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments.

Motzko said as Moore gets older, his play will improve because the game will “slow down” for him.

Jimmy Clark

Clark had five goals and 11 points in his first season as a Gopher. His only goal during the second half of the season was a game-tying goal in the regional semifinal game against the University of Nebraska-Omaha

Clark’s goals were crucial to the outcome of a couple of games in November, recording two goals in a tight win at Michigan and a game-winning goal in overtime versus Michigan State.

Throughout the season, Motzko said the Edina, Minnesota native can play anywhere in the lineup and sees his future as a successful college hockey player.

“He’s a heck of a player,” Motzko said.

After the Gophers’ final game against Boston University, Clark said the departing graduates were “unbelievable” and helped guide him in his first year.

“They gave everything to this program,” Clark said. “I want to make sure that it stays the way it is.”

Nathan Airey

Airey, a native of Cochrane, Alberta, started in one game for the Gophers this season as Close drew most of the team’s starting minutes.

In his only official start, a non-conference game over Robert Morris, Airey made 19 saves en route to a 4-2 win.

Airey played in two other games in the regular season, receiving credit for a loss against Michigan on March 2 and moving his record to 1-1-0 for the season.

Motzko praised Airey’s work ethic and said his injury at the beginning of the season limited his playing time.

“We have a world of faith in him,” Motzko said. “He’s our goalie of the future.”

Airey said playing behind Close has been enjoyable and has allowed him to develop. He called attention to Close’s “cool and calm game” as an attribute he wants to replicate next season.

“When my time comes next year, I’ll be ready to go,” Airey said.

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