Since the start of his freshman year, Kindersley native Justen Close has been buried into the third spot of the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers goaltending trio, largely in part this season to the amazing run by Gophers starter Jack Lafontaine. The Golden Gophers are off to an 8-0 start in conference play, after series sweeps against Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan State, and most recently against Michigan.
Close remained third in the goalie depth chart heading into his sophomore season, behind another sophomore goalie and Minnesota native Jared Moe, and the aforementioned star goalie Jack Lafontaine. Lafontaine has started and won all 8 of UM's games, posting a sparkling 1.00 GAA and .965 SV% to open many eyes around the nation. His hot start is no surprise to Close, who credits the senior for his play and is glad to see that hard work pays off.
"He's the best goalie in the country right now" said Close, "The thing about him is he works so hard, and I think there is always something to learn from someone who works that had, his attention to detail everyday and there is always something you can learn from a guy like that."
Excellence is something that Close has been accustomed to experiencing during his time with the Golden Gophers, as his coach is a former USA World Junior Gold winning head coach in Bob Motzko. He knows that Motzko and his staff have won before, and says it shows when they get the team ready on a night-to-night basis. This helps create a great atmosphere for young players, and a great place to play in general.
A few Golden Gophers are in line for this years USA WJC squad, as both the Gophers and Michigan were shorthanded for their last series. Cuts pending, these players should soon be in their Alberta bubble as the tournament is set to begin on Christmas Day.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced Big 10 Conference schools to stick to in-conference match-ups for hockey in 2020, as they look to complete their 28 game season without issue. As contenders become more clear, much thought will likely be put into a bubble format to provide some sort of playoff. According to Close, a separate collegiate division is set for a bubble in Omaha, while other important college tournaments such as Bostons 'Beanpot' will not be so lucky. This being said, the idea of the 'Frozen Four' being held bubble style, is definitely not out of the question.