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Starry weekend in East Lansing for Gophers as Big Ten honors Justen Close, Logan Cooley

After a road sweep where they never trailed, defensive and offensive standouts for the Gophers were recognized with the Big Ten's first and second stars of the week.

Minnesota Gophers defenseman goalie Justen Close slid to block a shot from Arizona State center Ryan Alexander during a game versus the Sun Devils on Friday, Nov. 25, 2022 at Mullett Arena in Tempe, Ariz.
Contributed / Sun Devil Athletics

MINNEAPOLIS – An important road sweep at Michigan State last season was the end of the Jack LaFontaine era for the Minnesota Gophers. The day after returning from East Lansing last January, LaFontaine unexpectedly signed with the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes, and Justen Close took over the Gophers’ primary goaltending duties, backstopping a trip to the NCAA Frozen Four.

Last weekend, things came full circle for Close, a senior netminder for the Gophers, who posted his own sweep at Michigan State, blanking the Spartans in five of the series’ six periods, as Minnesota solidified its place atop the Big Ten standings. On Tuesday, the conference gave a stick salute to Close’s performance, naming him the Big Ten’s first star of the week.

Next on their list of honors, earning the second star of the week, was Gophers rookie forward Logan Cooley, who put up two goals and three assists versus the Spartans in the two games.

Gophers vs Penn State_1213.jpg
Minnesota Gophers forward Logan Cooley (92) makes a pass against Penn State in the second period Thursday, Nov. 10, 2022, at 3M Arena at Mariucci in Minneapolis.
Jason Wachter / The Rink Live

The wins by Close were a clear sign that a topsy-turvy few weeks for him are in the past. He was the Gophers mainstay in the net for the season’s first six weeks or so, then missed a series at Michigan due to illness. Backup goalie Owen Bartoszkiewicz played and won both games versus the Wolverines, with both teams missing a handful of players.

Close returned to the net with a stellar night in a 3-2 win at Arizona State on Black Friday, but the Gophers lost 6-5 in overtime in the finale of that series, marking the most goals they have surrendered in a game this season. The loss didn’t phase him, clearly, as Close was solid both nights versus the Spartans.


Heading into the home series with Wisconsin this weekend, Close has a 10-5-0 record with three shutouts this season. He has a 2.12 goals-against average and a .919 saves percentage.

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Cooley, who was one of college hockey’s most highly-touted rookies heading into the season, has played in 17 games and is tied for the team lead in assists with 14, to go along with seven goals. He is second on the team in scoring, trailing only linemate Jimmy Snuggerud.

It is the second time both men have been honored by the conference this season. Cooley was the Big Ten’s first star after his opening weekend of college hockey versus Lindenwood, while Close was the conference’s second star in early November after he allowed one goal in a pair of home games versus Notre Dame.

Jess Myers covers college hockey, as well as outdoors, general sports and travel, for The Rink Live and the Forum Communications family of publications. He came to FCC in 2018 after three decades of covering sports as a freelancer for a variety of publications, while working full time in politics and media relations. A native of Warroad, Minn. (the real Hockeytown USA), Myers has a degree in journalism/communications from the University of Minnesota Duluth. He lives in the Twin Cities. Contact Jess via email at jrmyers@forumcomm.com, or find him on Twitter via @JessRMyers. English speaker.
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