Close ties Gophers shutout record in 3-0 win over Penn State

Justen Close tied a Minnesota men’s hockey record with the 13th shutout of his career as the No. 8/9 Golden Gophers shut down Penn State, 3-0, Saturday afternoon inside 3M Arena at Mariucci. Aaron Huglen scored twice in a three-minute span for the Maroon and Gold on the way to their seventh-straight home victory.

Close turned away all 30 shots faced, leading the Gophers (18-7-5 overall, 11-5-4 B1G) to a weekend sweep of the Nittany Lions (12-13-3 overall, 4-11-3 B1G) and extended his shutout streak to 179 minutes and six seconds. It was the first time in program history where PSU was held off the scoreboard in back-to-back outings.

The visitors made a strong push to begin the matinee, firing the game’s first five shots, and brought a physical edge that extended past the whistle. The pace continued to climb as both sides fought for space on the ice until Ryan Chesley was tripped, drawing a power play 13 minutes into the action. Oliver Moore slipped behind the PSU defense and nearly got the opening tally during the man advantage before Close delivered a timely save at the opposite end following a Minnesota turnover. Close stopped three more shots from the Nittany Lions and the first period ended scoreless.

The start of the second stanza belonged to the Gophers as they struck for a 1-0 advantage 72 seconds after the puck was dropped. Huglen worked a perfect give-and-go with Brody Lamb and finished off the shot from his off wing on a 2-on-1 break. The Nittany Lions responded immediately and rang a shot off the post during a delayed penalty call and went to their first power play.

The Maroon and Gold promptly erased the man advantage and went back to the attack where Huglen buried his second goal in a span of 3:22. Rhett Pitlick fired across a perfect pass and the junior one-timed a shot past the PSU netminder from the left circle. That line maintained pressure and both Huglen and Lamb had chances to extend the margin but the goalies on both ends of the rink turned away each chance. The Gophers carried their two-goal cushion into the locker room at intermission.

It was back-and-forth action to begin the third period with a majority of play taking place in the neutral zone. The visitors earned their second power play of the night at the 9:04 mark and thanks to Minnesota’s shot-blocking efforts and goaltending, killed off the opportunity. PSU put its second shot off the post before the media timeout as it pushed for an answer to Close. Mason Nevers tacked on an unassisted, insurance tally with 5:06 remaining in regulation where his tenacious play on the forecheck led to the goal after stealing the puck from a Nittany Lion defenseman.

Even with PSU’s net empty for an extra attacker over the final 2:13 of the game, the weekend belonged to the Kindersley, Saskatchewan, native and Close finished off the shutout, 3-0, making 30 saves.