Snuggerud scores twice as Close, Gophers blank Tommies

Justen Close turned away all 24 shots faced and Jimmy Snuggerud scored twice for the No. 2/1 Golden Gophers men’s hockey team during a 3-0 shutout of St. Thomas Saturday night at 3M Arena at Mariucci.

Close registered his first shutout of the season and 10th of his career, while Snuggerud broke a tightly contested matchup late in the second period with his second game-winning goal in as many nights. The sophomore added his fourth goal of the weekend in the third before Brody Lamb scored into an empty net as Minnesota finished off the weekend sweep to begin the 2023-24 season.

The Gophers came out of the gates moving quickly as it tested a new Tommies goaltender with four shots in the first two minutes, including a Snuggerud wrister off the post. The offensive attack continued to keep the visitors on their heels, firing seven of the night’s first nine shots, even after facing a St. Thomas power play that was held without a shot on goal. Minnesota erased a second man advantage by getting into the shooting lanes to block pucks, totaling 16 for the contest, as the teams headed to intermission scoreless.

The Maroon and Gold maintained the pressure into the second frame and Bryce Brodzinski came away with two quality chances thanks to brilliant passes by Garrett Pinoniemi and Snuggerud. St. Thomas pushed back and tested Close where the graduate student stood firm and held off the chances. The speed of Rhett Pitlick allowed the junior to get behind the defense as he nearly broke the tie but the junior’s contested bid in the middle of the stanza whistled wide of the cage. For the second night in a row, it was a momentum changing power play for the Gophers and Snuggerud buried a cross-ice feed on his off wing to ignite the home-opening crowd with 6:15 to play in the period.

The Tommies increased their pace beginning the final frame and hit the post five minutes in as they searched for the equalizer. Pitlick’s pursuit on the penalty kill was nearly rewarded as he collected a Pinoniemi pass in the crease only to have his shot gloved by the St. Thomas goalie. Minnesota’s persistence paid off as Lamb intercepted a pass and started a rush up the ice where Snuggerud capitalized on the two-on-one. The Chaska, Minn., native dialed up a patented snipe to the top corner, giving the Maroon and Gold a 2-0 cushion at the 9:32 mark of the third.

In desperation mode for the final three minutes, St. Thomas elected to pull its netminder only to be thwarted by Close and the Gophers’ defense. Lamb took advantage of the empty net and scored his third goal of the weekend, securing the 3-0 shutout of the Tommies.