Close earns win in first start for Gophers; UM tops Alaska 4-1

Justen Close picked up the win in his first career start for the No. 8 Gopher men’s hockey team as Minnesota topped Alaska 4-1 on Friday night at 3M Arena at Mariucci.

Tristan Broz, Matthew Knies, Blake McLaughlin and Jackson LaCombe scored for the Maroon & Gold while Ben Brinkman matched his career high with three assists in the victory.

After a hectic week for Minnesota, the Gophers started the weekend on a high note as its junior goaltender stopped 14 of 15 shots faced in his first regular-season start. Close, who backstopped both of last week’s exhibition wins for the Gophers, improved to 1-0-0 in his career after making six regular-season relief appearances previously. Gustavs Davis Grigals took the loss for Alaska with 22 saves to fall to 5-12-1 on the year.

The night even started with a high note as Broz lit the lamp for the first time as a Gopher to open the contest at 13:53 of the first period. Mike Koster set up the tally while Knies added to the lead with his eighth of the year at 18:54 of the opening stanza when he was set up by Ben Meyers and Brinkman.

Alaska (5-15-1) cut into the lead in the second with a power-play goal from Payton Matsui at 6:51.

The Gophers would replicate their two-goal performance from the opening period in the final segment. McLaughlin found the net for the sixth time this year at 14:45 as Brinkman earned his second assist of the night, and Sammy Walker earned his 100th career point with the secondary assist. Brinkman then completed the three-point night when he set up LaCombe for the long-range empty-net goal at 15:26 to seal the win.

Minnesota held a 26-15 advantage on shots while going 4-for-5 on the penalty kill and 0-for-3 on the power play.