Close to Home: Norwich Native Enjoys Thompson Arena Homecoming

  • Greta Close, right, watches first period action on the ice with her Vermont teammates during their game against Dartmouth in Hanover, N.H., on Nov. 6, 2018. Close, who grew up in Norwich, Vt., and is a graduate of Kimball Union Academy, is a sophomore at UVM. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Vermont's Greta Close, left, moves the puck up ice against Dartmouth's Alyssa Baker in the second period of their game in Hanover, N.H., on Nov. 6, 2018. Close grew up in the Upper Valley and had a contingent at Thompson Arena cheering her on. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • With the scored knotted up at 1-1 in the second period, Dartmouth defends a Vermont drive before a sparse crowd during their game in Hanover, N.H., on Nov. 6, 2018. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Sports Editor
Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Hanover — Three years after the fact, Mark Hudak appreciates how Greta Close welcomed him like an incoming freshman.

Hudak was the new guy on the Kimball Union Academy campus back then, having taken a teaching and coaching job at the Meriden prep school in the wake of his departure from the Dartmouth College women’s hockey program. Close, a Norwich native and former Hanover Wild youth hockey skater, was a senior co-captain on the KUA girls hockey team who helped him adjust to a new work environment.

“Some of it was how Greta was very, very passionate about the team and school,” Hudak said on Tuesday in the wake of Close’s return with the University of Vermont women’s hockey team for its date with Dartmouth at Thompson Arena. “I think she wanted to make sure that whoever was coming in to coach was going to understand that KUA passion and pride.”

A 2017 Kimball Union graduate, Close has transferred her passion to the Catamounts. A sophomore stay-at-home defenseman, Close played in front of a large contingent of family and friends in a 3-1 loss to the Big Green on Tuesday evening.

Thompson has long been a haunt for Close. She played Wild hockey there. She attended summer camps there. It made for a memorable night, even if the result didn’t.

“It was really amazing coming back to play,” Close said. “I didn’t expect the whole section behind (the UVM bench) with signs and a lot of my parents’ friends. It was really sweet to see everyone.

“They had signs in warmups, and all my teammates were like, ‘Oh God, you have a big crowd.’ I was kind of embarrassed, but honestly, there’s nothing like coming back and playing for the people that watched you grow up and played pond hockey with you and stuff.”

Close skated for the Wild through her freshman year at Hanover High School, opting for the youth program’s U14 squad instead of the Marauders’ powerhouse girls varsity team. Her family knew Kimball Union’s dean of students at the time, however, and that opened up the possibility of going the prep route instead.

She would spend her final three high school years in Meriden, skating for two different KUA girls hockey coaches and catching Vermont coach Jim Plumer’s eye. Close played sparingly for the Cats last winter, but has seen action in seven of UVM’s 10 games to date.

Plumer gave Close a surprise start in her homecoming, pairing her with senior blueliner Sammy Kolowrat, a member of the Czech Republic national team, for a game-opening shift. Close skated regularly beyond that, including time on a penalty-killing unit that had to fend off seven minors against the Big Green.

“We thought she had room to grow as a player,” Plumer said. “She was playing at KUA, which is a decent level of hockey, and we felt she hadn’t hit her peak yet. She didn’t play a lot last year; she’s playing a lot more this year. And I think she’s improved a lot; that’s what we’ve been hoping for.

“She can shoot the puck, but I think we see her as someone who is good and physical, can win battles in the corner and keep the game simple. We don’t expect her to make end-to-end rushes. We just look at her as a solid D.”

Close had the benefit of two different KUA coaches with somewhat different hockey backgrounds.

She entered KUA during former U.S. Olympian Molly Engstrom’s two-year coaching term in Meriden; Close credited Engstrom with helping her through the transition from youth to prep school play. Hudak and KUA assistant Claudia Barcomb continued Close’s improvement to the point of realizing her college hockey goals. Both of Close’s parents are UVM grads, so the decision to head to Burlington seemed natural.

“I try to be pretty consistent and make good passes, simple passes and plays,” said Close, who augmented her KUA hockey experience with action for the Boston-based East Coast Wizards program. “I’m definitely working on getting better shots on net and being more confident on the puck.”

When he joined Kimball Union, Hudak inherited in Close what he called “an old soul.” Having known her family during his Dartmouth tenure — he often joined her father, Stuart, in midweek pickup hockey games at Campion Rink — Hudak had an advance understanding of what Close could offer on and off the ice.

“She’s mature for her age, very thoughtful,” Hudak said. “You’re talking about a person who could make everyone else happy on the worst day. She was that kind of person, even when she was a captain her senior year. I think a lot of people trusted her.”

Plumer said the Cats (2-5-3) struggle to be regularly competitive within Hockey East, but they’ve had their moments. Vermont’s 10 wins last season included victories over eventual NCAA champion Clarkson and two other national tournament teams, Northeastern and Minnesota.

Having made the ascent from Hanover youth hockey to collegiate women’s hockey, Close plans on continuing her improvement.

“Honestly, I take it one game at a time, hoping to get shifts and doing as well as I can,” she said. “It’s all a huge learning experience, so it’s just having fun, getting school done and hoping it keeps getting better from here on out.

“Obviously, the team’s first and you always want to win. But personally, it was really special, one of my favorite games I’ve played in, for sure.”

Greg Fennell can be reached at gfennell@vnews.com or 603-727-3226.