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Justin Damon at Bird Arena.

Hockey: Justin Damon found happiness again at Ohio

Before a game, Justin Damon's teammates would describe him as funny, playful and sarcastic. However, when the music stops, the whistle sounds and the puck hits the ice, the goalie is locked in. 

Competitiveness is in Damon's blood, and it developed further when he began playing hockey at four years old. He learned the game where most Saint Michael, Minnesota, natives do: a pond behind his house. Using a chair to keep his balance, Damon built up his confidence until he was ready for mites. 

Many goalies play at a different position before making the transition into the net, but not Damon. He knew from the start that he wanted to be the one making saves and winning games. Even without the proper gear as a child, Damon would still play goalie as much as possible.  

"I always saw that the goalie got like all the attention after the game, like all the players went to him," Damon said. "At a young age I was like, 'I want that.'" 

Damon stuck with goalie throughout high school and even helped lead his team to its first state tournament. Playing in front of 18,000 people helped him realize that he wasn't quite ready to hang up his skates, so he moved to New Hampshire for juniors. 

Playing for the New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs was a formative experience for Damon in more ways than one. Being far from home and on his own for the first time made him grow up a lot. 

It also introduced him to Sam Turner, one of his closest friends. After juniors, Turner came to Ohio, and Damon moved back to Minnesota to play at Gustavus Adolphus. However, the two stayed in contact. 

Gustavus Adolphus seemed like the perfect place for Damon after he toured it twice, but he soon found out it wasn't. It made him question if hockey was still the sport for him. 

"Hockey just wasn't fun there anymore," Damon said. "We weren't the greatest, didn't really get any fans (and) didn't get treated the best. I just need a fresh start." 

Damon didn't have to think too hard when deciding where to start fresh. He knew all about Ohio from Turner, who had been trying to recruit him to Athens for years. After talking to head coach Lionel Mauron about Ohio's program, all the fans it consistently gets and more, Damon was sold. 

In his first season with the Bobcats, Damon has started in 15 games and won 12. He allows an average of just 2.20 goals per game and has an above-average save percentage of 90.1%.  

He got his first shutout with Ohio against West Virginia in early November but arguably, his most important game was Feb. 3 against Minot State. Damon saved 33 shots and allowed just three goals, which enabled Ohio to beat the No.1 team in the American Collegiate Hockey Association. 

Starting in that game is an experience that Damon will never forget. 

"That was incredible," Damon said. "I remember going out on the ice for starting lineups, (it was) the most people I've seen in (Bird Arena), the loudest ever. Skating onto the ice, I got goosebumps for the first time in a long time."

Even though Damon is technically a senior, he plans to return to Athens for another year. He's excited about playing with the Bobcats again, especially since they're in great shape to win a national championship.

"I feel like one year (at Ohio) isn't enough," Damon said. 

@molly_burchard8

mb712319@ohio.edu 

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