Tons of news was made locally about Kindersley’s Justen Close and his move into the starters net this year at the University of Minnesota, where he helped take the Golden Gophers to the Frozen Four.

Playing NCAA hockey on the biggest stage was a brand new experience for Close, who despite being a two-time winner of the SJHL Top Goaltender award, has never come close to a similar experience to what he had in Boston just a few weeks ago.

“It was fun. It didn’t really feel like that different of a weekend honestly,” said the always humble Close, “The stage was a lot bigger, obviously it was a goal of ours to make it there, and to feel like we could get it done. It was definitely exciting for sure to play a game at the TD Garden, and that was a big match-up for us obviously. We came out on the wrong side of it, but it was a fun game.”

The team played just outside of Boston in the regional round, and once they made it to the big dance, they were able to take in one of the city’s crown jewels before taking the ice.
“Boston is a nice city, I’ve never been before, and we definitely enjoyed our time there,” said Close, who met face to face with the Green Monster, “That was pretty cool. We got to tour Fenway, see the Green Monster on top, and go down onto the field so it was a fun day.”

After that the Golden Gophers got down to business, preparing to face a much older and more experienced Minnesota State team in the biggest game of their season. Story lines for the all-Minnesota match-up certainly focused on the fact that a majority of skaters in the game played their high school action in the State of Hockey, but a match-up between the goalies represented a different story when it comes to where they came from. The Saskatchewan native Close would line up against the eventual NCAA Men’s Hockey MVP in Dryden McKay who hails from the state of Illinois, and the ESPN broadcast back on April 7th actually provided a pre-game tale of the tape for the two goaltenders.

Despite an eventual 5-1 loss in the Frozen Four match-up, the Golden Gophers played a competitive game with their in-state rivals, even holding the lead after one period of play. The rough-and-tumble Minnesota State Mavericks would push their way to victory from there, ending what was a storybook season for the Golden Gophers that most fans thought was over after their starting goalie Jack LaFontaine departed for the Carolina Hurricanes of the National Hockey League.

Close was thrust into the starters role with his only recent game experience being some exhibitions with the college team, and also some summer hockey in ‘Da Beauty League’. He talked about his ascension into the starters net shortly after the new year.

“When I got back from Christmas we had a few exhibition games right away that I played,” recalled Close, who soon after departed with the team for a series against Michigan State, only to have the big news drop soon after, “That Sunday he was gone. It would have only been 2 weeks after getting back kind of thing.”

Coming off his Junior year with the team, Close knew what to expect with the grind of an NCAA schedule, but actually having to partake in it gave him a better perspective of what college hockey is like. One of the main differences was the intensity seen one game at a time, especially in the playoffs, where the typical Best-of-7 format is replaced with single game eliminations.

“One thing I figured out was the days were long, but the weeks fly by. Every weekend was a new challenge and a new team, and it’s kind of funny how it works. One game, one shot. It makes for really competitive games, but the playoffs do move pretty quick.”

Even he didn’t know much about the NCAA ranks before his move to play in Minnesota, but has used the fuel of fresh challenge to keep his love for the game high.

“That’s what its all about. Enjoying it. It would be pretty hard to do if you didn’t,” said Close.

He certainly enjoyed his wild season, and was able to share it with family in multiple ways:

Justen Close treated to family visit, and surprise in Minnesota ahead of championship game

With tickets available for players to give away, several family members were in attendance when Close and his team made it to the Frozen Four in Boston. As mentioned before a watch party was also held in Kindersley, as everyone who has followed Close this year had a chance to watch him in his biggest game. Seeing everyone in one place had be a boost of confidence for Close.

Golden Gopher, meet Red Lion; Frozen Four watch party held in Kindersley for former Jr. Klippers star

“I talked to Grandma and Grandpa before I went, and they were saying they don’t know how streaming works, so they were heading down to the Red Lion to watch it,” he laughed.

Close says he would have liked to make it two games to give everyone watching an extra night out, and also noted just how much he appreciated all of the support seen from former teammates, friends, and family.

“It’s just really nice to hear from people, and I enjoy all the support, and I hope they enjoyed watching us as much as I did playing.”

Close, Golden Gophers entering NCAA Frozen Four hot as can be

A personal note to finish the story, back during a regular season broadcast, announcers made note of a slick glove save by Close to snuff out a scoring opportunity. They commented that maybe Close was a first basemen growing up playing baseball in Saskatchewan. Sorry ESPN team, but that would be me, Cooper Douglas, I was the first basemen. Close was the catcher!

Check out the rest of the stories below from Close’s great year between the pipes: