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Down on the Farm: Former Gopher Adjusts to Pro Hockey

His college career now over, Kloos hopes to help Iowa during postseason push

by Tom Witosky @toskyAHLWild / IowaWild.com

DES MOINES -- When rookie Justin Kloos arrived here to begin his professional career after four years at the University of Minnesota, he understood what his top priority would be in playing for the Iowa Wild.

"When you change teams and go to a new level, you just have to find where you fit in and hopefully help the team win," said Kloos, a former Gopher captain. "To have a chance to play professional hockey is something that any young hockey player wants to have."

Kloos is among a group of young Wild prospects who will finish their hockey season playing in the American Hockey League following highly successful college careers; Luke Kunin, a former Wisconsin Badger, and free agent Gerald Mayhew, a highly-touted free agent from Ferris State.

All three have impressed Iowa coach Derek Lalonde as they have adjusted to playing on the next step to a potential NHL career.

"It is a different world for them, but I have been happy with all three," Lalonde said. "It is going to be very exciting moving forward. We have asked a lot of them and they are playing significant roles."

Lalonde added that given the Wild's push to make the Calder Cup playoffs, Kloos and the other rookies likely have been asked for more than they can deliver. Lalonde has played all three in every game since they've arrived, partially to test them, but also because of their willingness to compete.

"Maybe I am asking too much of them, but it is a reality of where our roster is at," Lalonde said. "These are going to be very valuable games and minutes for their careers going forward."

Kloos has been placed on the first and second lines as a forward in two games, centered the Wild's fourth line in one game and has been on the power play. Although Kloos has yet to collect a goal or an assist, Lalonde said the Lakeville native has been playing at a high level.

"We have put him in every situation we can and I think it's valuable for him to go through it," Lalonde said. "He's handle it pretty well."

Kloos' arrival in Des Moines followed a whirlwind week of negotiation for the rookie after the Gophers were eliminated from the NCAA Tournament. Kloos talked with representatives from 10 NHL teams before settling on his hometown club.

"It was little bizarre and certainly a little different," said Kloos, who remained in school for his senior year in an attempt to win the NCAA championship and also complete a degree in agricultural finance. "Some conversations were more serious than others, but the whole thing was very exciting."

Though undrafted, Kloos drew the attention of a number of NHL teams following four strong seasons with the U of M, finishing each season in Dinkytown as one of the Gophers' top four point producers. In his last two years, Kloos collected 86 points in 75 games.

Kloos doesn't regret remaining with the Gophers last season instead of turning professional. Despite the disappointment of not winning a national championship, Kloos said the additional year helped build his confidence that he knew would be tested when he began playing professional hockey.

"Taking the next step will have its ups and downs, so it helps to have a reservoir of confidence that you can go to when things don't go initially your way," he said. "It is a huge thing in keeping yourself up and in the right state of mind when things don't go the way you want."

Kunin, who played against Kloos in the Big Ten, said the former Gopher presented a number of problems on the ice. Because both played top-line roles with their respective clubs, Kunin and Kloos were often matchup against one another during games.

"He is very creative player and works hard to make a play when he has the puck." Kunin said. "We had a heated rivalry, but I'm just happy I am playing on the same team with him now."

Kloos is also a former teammate of Wild players Nick Seeler, Mike Reilly and Mario Lucia. All four were members of the same youth hockey team. Their team, the Minnesota Ice, was coached by Seeler's father and traveled extensively during the spring and summer months.

"All four of us were on the spring, summer team for six years," Kloos said. "It's sorta crazy that we would all end up on the same team at this point."

Prior to playing at Minnesota, Kloos spent a season playing for the Waterloo Black Hawks in the USHL where he played briefly with Wild defenseman Zach Palmquist. In his only full season with Waterloo, Kloos had an impressive 85 points (29-58=85) in just 54 games, ranking second on the team.

Lalonde said that Kloos' strength on the ice is his hockey sense and willingness to compete.

"The hockey sense is there as is the compete level. He is making plays." Lalonde said.

Kloos said that his biggest adjustment has been to learn the Wild's system more than adjusting to the size and speed of the game.

"I am not sure the speed of the game is so much the problem." Kloos said. "But it's about knowing the positioning and where to be. These guys have been playing in a system all season and I am just trying to get used to it."

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