Justin Kloos starred with Lakeville South and the Gophers men’s hockey team before signing with the Wild as a college free agent in March following his final season with the Gophers. Kloos, 23, chatted with the Star Tribune’s Michael Rand this past week at the Wild’s development camp at Xcel Energy Center:
Q You have more control when you’re a college free agent as opposed to getting drafted. What was the thought process with signing with the Wild?
A Ultimately it came down to opportunity. I think I came to a place where they’re looking for players who play my style — a smart, versatile game. Hopefully, I’ll be able to contribute wherever I end up next year and be able to work my way up to my final goal, which is to be in the NHL and an everyday guy.
Q You have a chance to play high school, college and pro all in Minnesota. That doesn’t happen all that often. Was that part of the consideration for signing here?
A Ah, maybe a little. But in the end it comes down to opportunities, and they’re not going to give me any advantage just because I’m from Minnesota. There are no shortcuts. It’s still going to be really tough to make it. I’m looking forward to the competition.
Q How much Wild hockey did you watch growing up?
A Tons. You didn’t really watch too many other NHL teams growing up. It was FSN and the Wild. That was what we all did. We would pretend to be Marian Gaborik, Brian Rolston. I’m sure most kids my age, Gaborik was the guy. I just pretty much grew up watching the Wild and the Gophers.
Q You got a little taste of pro hockey playing in Iowa with the Wild affiliate after you signed. Was there an eye-opener jumping from college hockey to that level?
A It’s just a different atmosphere. I came right after the [Gophers] season and had been working for 12 months toward a goal that our team ultimately came up short in reaching. The emotional and mental part was the most difficult thing, coming in after such a low — and then learning a new style, new team, new teammates. Once I stepped on the ice, I felt pretty comfortable. I was able to see the game and see what I need to work on going into next year.
Q Did you get a chance to reflect much on your college career given how quick the transition was?
A Not totally. I cherish a lot of things I did at the U and I’m very proud of my time there. But now I’m one of many alums and I have to move on and contribute with another team.
Q It was announced that your college home arena is being renamed 3M Arena at Mariucci. You have any thoughts on that?
A Ah, I’m not thrilled.
Q Do guys even care or talk about it?
A Ah, yeah, guys care.
Q If this is going to be a successful season for you, what needs to happen?
A I get better as a player and prove myself down in Iowa, maybe come up here and get my feet wet and prove that I can contribute at this level — and prove to myself that I have the ability to be an NHL player for years to come. The whole deal for me is to get better and gain confidence and be effective wherever they put me.