The Gophers may not be present at the Frozen Four as a team, but they did pick up a bunch of hardware Friday night at the College Hockey awards ceremony. Gopher senior goalie Jack LaFontaine was named the 2021 recipient of the Mike Richter Award given to the best goaltender in men’s college hockey. He was also named a First Team-All American in the West Region along with Gopher forward Sampo Ranta. Defenseman Jackson LaCombe was named a Second Team All-American. The Mariucci Arena staff is gonna need to book the mural painter here ASAP!
LaFontaine was one of three finalists for the Mike Richter Award along with Boston College’s Spencer Knight and Minnesota State’s Dryden McKay. The committee decided to award LaFontaine for his work against a tougher conference then recognize McKay’s nine shutouts on the season. One thing Jack had going for him is that the voting for the Richter Aawrd took place after the conference tournaments, but before the NCAA Regionals. Thus McKay’s shutout of the Gophers in the West region final was not factored into the voting decision.
Coach Motzko on Laffer -- Minnesota's first recipient of the Mike Richter Award and the first #Gophers goaltender to earn First Team All-America honors since Robb Stauber in 1988. pic.twitter.com/PRpuIp8d0W— Minnesota Men’s Hockey (@GopherHockey) April 9, 2021
But Jack definitely deserved the award. The 2021 Big Ten Goaltender of the year went 22-7 on the season and set new Minnesota single season records for save percentage (.934) and goals against average (1.79). He recorded five shutouts this season, second in the nation behind McKay and tied for the third most in a season by a Gopher. Among goaltenders who played more than ten games this season LaFontaine ranked first in the nation in wins, tied for first in save percentage, third in saves, and third in goals against average. Against ranked teams he was 11-5 this season. Lafontaine was a top ten finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, the Most Outstanding Player of the Big Ten Tournament, and a finalist for the Senior CLASS Award. He also can now add First Team All-American to that list, and see himself up on the Mariucci walls—because a week ago he confirmed he will return for one more season with the Gophers!
Also headed for the mural will be junior Sampo Ranta. Ranta signed with the Colorado Avalanche last weekend but not before he broke out with an exceptional junior season. Ranta was previously named First Team All-Big Ten and to the Big Ten all-tournament team. He led the Gophers in goals with 19 and points with 31—both career highs. He also added a career high 12 assists on the season. His 19 goals ranked him second in the nation behind Hobey Baker Award winner Cole Caufield—but he was nearly as important to Minnesota as the Gophers were 20-3 this season when Ranta recorded a point.
LaFontaine and Ranta become the 38th and 39th First Team All-Americans for the Gophers and will join recent greats such as Tyler Sheey, Rem Pitlick, and Mike Reilly up on the Mariucci walls.
Just coming short of earning a mural spot was Gopher sophomore defenseman Jackson LaCombe. LaCombe was named a Second Team All-American on defense Also a First Team All-Big Ten pick Lacombe set career highs in points (21), assists (17) and goals (4) in just 27 games. His point total ranked him 8th in the nation in points by a defenseman and fifth in the nation in assists by a defenseman.
This season is just the fourth time in program history that Minnesota has had three All-Americans in one season joining 1954, 1996 and 2014. It’s the 11th time in program history that the Gophers have two First-Team All-Americans in one season, with the most recent time being 2002.
Congrats to the trio of Gophers, and hopefully two of them can make it back to back seasons next spring!