Believe it or not, hockey season officially starts for the Minnesota Golden Gophers this week. Minnesota opens the season Thursday night at 7:30 when they host the Penn State Nittany Lions at 3M Arena at Mariucci. It’s going to be a weird season with little to no crowds in the arenas, weeknight games, and the inevitable postponements due to COVID-19. But at least for a little bit we can be excited and look towards what will hopefully be another banner winning season in the 100th year of Gopher Hockey.
This is the first of three season preview articles on the Gophers personnel. First we will take a look at the Gophers goaltenders. Tuesday afternoon we look to the blue line and the Gophers defensemen. Wednesday we will take a look at the Minnesota forwards. Thursday will be the series preview. Lots of hockey content to get us started this week.
So who will be between the pipes for the Gophers?
Minnesota returns all three of it’s goaltenders from a year ago with senior Jack LaFontaine and Sophomore Jared Moe splitting duty in the net. The Gophers third goalie sophomore Justen Close also returns but will once again not be expected to see any action.
Jack LaFontaine—Senior—Mississagua, Ontario
Jack LaFontaine returns for his second year with the Gophers in 2020. LaFontaine played at Michigan for two seasons before transferring and playing the 2018-19 season with the Penticton Vees in the British Columbia Hockey League and earning their league’s goalie of the year award. In his junior season with the Gophers he played in and started 25 games. He ended the year with a record of 9-9-6 and a goals against average of 2.55, LaFontaine eared a save percentage of .919—good enough for the seventh highest percentage in Gopher history.
LaFontaine took over the #1 goalie spot down the stretch starting the final nine games of the season after splitting time with Moe for a majority of the year. LaFontaine earned those starts allowing two goals or less in his final five games of the season including helping the Gophers to a 2-1 series win over Notre Dame in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament allowing just four goals in the three game series.
It would not be a surprise to see LaFontaine get the opening game on Thursday night against Penn State, hopefully needing to make less that the 54 saves—a career high in one February game against the Nittany Lions last season.
Jared Moe—Sophomore—New Prague, Minnesota
Moe impressed in his first season in the maroon and gold and earned some acolades for his play. Moe played in 16 games for the Gophers starting 12 of them and ending the season with a 7-5-1 record. Moe allowed 2.46 goals per game and had a save percentage just below LaFontaine’s at .915. He was a unanimous selection to the All-Big Ten Freshman Team leading the conference freshmen in wins, save percentage, goals against average, saves (366) and shutouts (one).
Moe also got better as the season went on getting wins in four of his last five starts of the season. That string was jump started by his only career shutout a 2-0 win at Michigan State in January. Moe earned a pair of wins in Madison over Wisconsin. He entered Friday night’s game midway through the second period and shut down the Badgers the rest of the way allowing for a 6-2 Gopher victory. He returned the next night and once again stymied the Badgers earning a 4-2 victory.
Moe will see significant time in goal this season for the Gophers—and it won’t be surprising to see him in the goal for the Friday afternoon game against the Nittany Lions
Justen Close—Sophomore—Kindersley, Saskatchewan
Close enters his second year with Minnesota squarely as the #3 goalie. Close saw mop-up action in three games last season for the Gophers allowing three goals on 14 shots. Unless Minnesota runs into some serious injury/COVID situations, Close most likely will be limited to mop-up duty once more.
The Gophers return a duo of goalies who at times looked like some of the Big Ten’s best, and at other times looked brutal. Minnesota will need to get some consistent play from it’s platoon if it wants to compete for a Big Ten title—especially as they will face some high powered offenses in the conference, most notably Michigan and Penn State. It’s likely Bob Motzko will go with the platoon at least in the 2020 portion of the season barring health reasons, but it will be interesting to see if one goalie can wrest the #1 job away down the stretch as LaFontaine did last season. If they play well—the Gophers should be in good shape in the Big Ten. If not, this season may be more of a struggle than expected.