For the past few seasons, the Golden Gophers hockey team has been very uniform when it comes to their goaltenders. Minnesota has not had a backup goaltender play more than ten games in a season since Alex Kangas and Jeff Frazee split the duties in 2007-2008. You have to go all the way back to the 2009-10 season to find a season where the Gopher backup started more than five games in a season what was not due to injuries when Kent Patterson started six games to Kangas’ 33. For the past ten seasons, its been a one man show in net, whether it belonged to Kangas, or Patterson, Adam Wilcox, or Eric Schierhorn.
While due to some eligibility issues the ten game milestone probably will not be broken, there is a fairly good chance that for the first time in eight seasons Minnesota will have a second goalie that will start more than five games this season. Schierhorn will be the man to start the season, but expectations are high for incoming sophomore Mat Robson that he will be able to step into the lineup on a semi-regular basis when he becomes eligible to play in early December. Frankly, that is probably a good thing.
The Gopher goaltending preview begins and ends with junior Eric Schierhorn. The Anchorage, Alaska native has won back to back Big Ten Goalie of the year Awards in backstopping the Gophers to two of their four consecutive Big Ten Regular Season Championships. Through two seasons he has a 43-19-3 record, a 2.61 goals against average, and a save percentage of 0.907. His eight career shutouts already tie him for second in school history with Adam Hauser and trailing only Kellen Briggs and Adam Wilcox who have 13.
Schierhorn has been very solid for the Gophers. Fans have grumbled on occasion that he lets the occasional soft goal in, but there have been plenty of more times where he has bailed his defense out with a ridiculous save.
Eric Schierhorn & Vinni Lettieri combine on a ridiculous save to preserve Gophers win over Badgers pic.twitter.com/R3yjtKAf5j— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) February 26, 2017
Schierhorn has been good enough for the Gophers to win two regular season titles, but has yet to steal that big game in tournament play. He will have his work cut out for him this year with a lot of defensive talent gone from last season’s roster. Yet there is no reason to think he won’t be up for the challenge. The question will be if this is finally the year he gets a break. Schierhorn has started all 75 games he has been a Gopher in his career. He has yet to have a game off. But, beginning in early December the Gophers might finally have a goalie with enough talent to give Schierhorn a breather.
Minnesota brings in sophomore Mat Robson from Mississauga, Ontario this season. He is the first Canadian to play for the Gophers since 2006. He enters the U as a sophomore due to some interesting circumstances. Here from Nate Wells’ great profile of Robson in the Pioneer Press from last December:
By 15, Mat was playing on a star-filled Toronto Marlboros minor midget team. Among his teammates were Edmonton Oilers superstar Connor McDavid and NHL first-round picks Dylan Strome, Sam Bennett and Josh Ho-Sang.
Those four signed with the major junior Ontario Hockey League. Robson did too, with the Peterborough Petes, but injuries meant he only played in a few exhibition games before being sent back to juniors and going undrafted.
Robson committed to Clarkson but, because he had played in exhibitions, had to sit out a year and a half (the NCAA considers the OHL a professional league because it includes players who have signed NHL contracts). He spent 2015-16 at Clarkson before deciding to transfer and believes he has three years of eligibility — although remains a chance he may have to sit out half of next season.
That chance became a reality earlier this summer as the NCAA will require Robson to sit out the first 18 games of the 2017-18 season. His first game he will be eligible will be the Friday of the Gophers series at Ohio State on December 8th.
Robson played last season with the Penticton Vees in the British Columbia Hockey League. The league is no unknown to college hockey fans and Gopher fans as several current and former Gophers have played for the Vees including Jack Ramsey, all three Reilly brothers and incoming freshman defenseman Sam Rossini. Robson was the #1 goalie for the Vees last season and he backstopped them to the league title leading the league in wins (35), shutouts (six) and minutes (2,910) while finishing second in the league in goals against average (1.94) and save percentage (.930).
Robson has some talent and almost assuredly will be able to play some games for the Gophers in the back half of the season finally giving Schierhorn the break he deserves. Gopher fans can hope that by getting Schierhorn some rest down the stretch he may be a bit sharper and ready to go come NCAA Tournament time. The ultimate hope for Gopher fans is that Robson ends up like the last Canadian goalie to play for Minnesota, Frank Pietrangelo from 1982-1986 who ranks 8th all time in wins at Minnesota with 51.
The Gophers also return both senior Neck Lehr from Roseville and junior Brock Kautz from Rochester. Lehr has played in mop up duty in two games each of the last two seasons and started one game his freshman year. Kautz has played in one game two seasons ago. Both goalies have been great teammates and quality practice players, but if either one of them sees the ice for anything longer than a few minutes this season, the Gophers are in a bit of trouble.
The Gophers have the goaltending to take them a ways towards a quality season, but only time will tell if someone has the ability to step up and win steal some games that need to be won to get Minnesota back where they want to be.