Badgers' weekend visit means one Moe reunion of current and former Gophers goalies
Last season, Wisconsin goalie Jared Moe and Minnesota goalie Justen Close spent 1,700 minutes on the Gophers' bench, making small talk while Jack LaFontaine occupied the crease. This season they will face each other on the ice with vital Big Ten points up for grabs.
MINNEAPOLIS — While both men are friendly and straightforward, neither Wisconsin Badgers goalie Jared Moe nor Minnesota Gophers goalie Justen Close would be considered the overly talkative type. But at one point in their college careers, they had lots of time to chat.
For much of the previous two seasons, Moe and Close were the backup goalies to Gophers every night starter Jack LaFontaine, and would take their place at the end of the bench during games, encouraging their teammates and waiting for the call, if needed. That call almost never came.
“Well, we had a lot of time to get to know each other, that’s for sure,” Close said of last season. “Lots of small talk throughout the games that year.”
While LaFontaine was winning the Mike Richter Award — given to college hockey’s top goalie — and playing more than 1,700 minutes in the Gophers’ crease, Moe got two nonconference starts and Close played 20 minutes of mop-up duty in a lopsided loss to Wisconsin. In April, Moe transferred to the Badgers program in search of a starting role, which he has found in Madison, albeit on a team that has struggled. The Badgers come to 3M Arena at Mariucci this weekend with a 6-15-1 conference mark and will finish either fifth or sixth in the seven-team Big Ten, after winning the conference a year ago.
Moe has been the goalie of record in seven of Wisconsin’s nine wins, and with a .914 saves percentage has put up decent numbers with little goal support. The 69 goals recorded by the Badgers is last in the Big Ten. Moe won a Badgers’ home game versus the Gophers in November, but is expecting a different feel with the U of M student section at his back for 40 minutes on Friday.
“I think it's going to be a weird feeling, playing them on the road,” said Moe, a lefty who is from New Prague, Minn., and played prep hockey at Holy Family Catholic. “It's one thing to play them here. I thought that was a weird experience for me but I think this weekend's going to be a little more different for me than the one we played them here.”
Meanwhile, back in the State of Hockey, Close is 9-3-0 as a starter since taking over for the departed LaFontaine in January. The Gophers are on their biggest roll of the season, having won six in a row to climb within two points of conference-leading Michigan with two games left for each team. The Wolverines hold the tiebreaker, so Minnesota needs two wins versus Wisconsin and needs Notre Dame to beat Michigan at least once in their series this weekend to win the Big Ten outright.
The Gophers’ coach is working to make sure his team has a shorter focus and is not looking further down the road than necessary.
“We’ve got to win Friday night. No matter what scenarios happen we have … to control what we can and our whole focus is Friday night,” said Gophers coach Bob Motzko. “We’re going to have to scoreboard watch with Michigan at Notre Dame, but there’s no sense in doing it if we don’t take care of Friday. The scoreboard watching for us only starts once we win Friday. We’ve got to take care of what we can take care of.”
Friday’s game versus Wisconsin is an 8 p.m. start and will be televised nationally on ESPNU with Clay Matwick and Sean Ritchlin calling the action. The Saturday rematch is Senior Night for the Gophers. The game faces off at 7 p.m. CT and will be broadcast by Big Ten Network with Ben Holden and Fred Pletsch on the call.
On radio, the Gophers can be heard on 1130 AM / 103.5 FM in the Twin Cities with Wally Shaver and Frank Mazzocco describing the action.
Postgame interviews with coach Motzko and Gophers players can be seen live, roughly 10 minutes after the final horn at The Rink Live’s Facebook page .
The Gophers and Badgers have been facing off in the Border Battle for a century now, having first met on ice in Madison on Jan. 20-21, 1922. The Gophers swept that series 3-0 and 3-1, and lead the all-time series versus Wisconsin with a 176-100-24 record in 300 meetings. They split a series at the Kohl Center in November, with Wisconsin prevailing 4-3 in overtime to take the opener and the Gophers salvaging a split with a 4-1 win in the finale.