Justen Close closing in on Gophers’ shutout record

The University of Minnesota men’s hockey team has two regular season series left, and goaltender Justen Close is closing in on history.

Close stopped all 66 shots he faced in a pair of 2-0 shutouts last weekend against Penn State. Saturday’s shutout was the 13th of his career, which ties the program record. His next, if and when it comes, will make history for Gophers’ hockey. He’s now a top-10 semifinalist for the second straight year for the Mike Richter Award, which goes annually to the top goalie in college hockey.

"We’ve said it all. Shhh, just let him go. Let him keep playing, let them do what they do," Gophers’ coach Bob Motzko said Wednesday.

Close is certainly aware of where he’s at, but it’s not something he’s thinking about. He’s already near the top of a group of Gophers’ goaltenders that includes Jack LaFontaine, Adam Wilcox, Robb Stauber, Kent Patterson, Jeff Frazee and others.

Motzko talked about the shutout record as if Close is entering the ninth inning of a perfect game. Close just wants to win.

"You can say it if you want. It’s not something I think about a lot. It’s definitely pretty wild to me, very fortunate to play for this program. Right place right time I guess," Close said.

What really matters is the Gophers have earned points in 10 of their last 11 games. They’re third in the Big Ten at 35 points at 11-5-4, and don’t have enough games to catch Michigan State’s 46 to win a regular season title. They can put themselves in a good spot for the NCAA Tournament.

They’re No. 8 in the all-important PairWise Rankings. If they don’t win the Big Ten Tournament to earn an automatic bid, they’re in solid position to earn an at-large berth.

"Three years ago we didn’t punch our ticket, the last two we have so we’ve got to draw on that experience. We’ve got to get in the tournament first. The whole thing is get in that tournament and be playing your best hockey at the end of the year," Motzko said. "That’s all we’re trying to do, our guys feel good about where they’re at."