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Goalie inexperience bedevils NCHC

MINNEAPOLIS -- St. Cloud State coach Bob Motzko summed up perfectly the bittersweet plight of his program and Minnesota Duluth as both teams watched their star underclassmen goaltenders dominate the NCHC a year ago and then turn pro.

Mar 31, 2016; Tampa, FL, USA; Montreal Canadiens goalie Charlie Lindgren (35) looks on from the ice prior to the game against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Montreal Canadiens goalie Charlie Lindgren (35) looks on from the ice prior to the game against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena. (Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports)

MINNEAPOLIS - St. Cloud State coach Bob Motzko summed up perfectly the bittersweet plight of his program and Minnesota Duluth as both teams watched their star underclassmen goaltenders dominate the NCHC a year ago and then turn pro.

"You hoped, then you wished, then you knew as the season went along," Motzko said Thursday at NCHC Media Day at Target Center.

Huskies junior Charlie Lindgren and Bulldogs sophomore Kasimir Kaskisuo were two of the three best goaltenders in the NCHC a year ago, but after both signed NHL contracts in the spring Motzko and UMD coach Scott Sandelin were left explaining how their teams will fill the massive void in goal this season.

Lindgren posted a .925 save percentage and 2.13 goals-against average for the Huskies while starting 40 of 41 games in 2015-16. He was named NCHC Goaltender of the Year, a first-team All-American and finalist for the Mike Richter Award, given to the top goalie in the country. He signed with the Montreal Canadiens.

Kaskisuo finished with a .923 save percentage and 1.92 goals-against average starting 39 of 40 games. That was enough for the Toronto Maple Leafs to sign the native of Vantaa, Finland, to a two-year entry-level deal after just two seasons of college hockey.

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Both coaches admitted they weren't surprised to see their netminders sign pro deals. It's the modern state of college hockey, with seven underclassmen goaltenders - including Lindgren and Kaskisuo - signing pro deals at the end of last season.

"It probably goes in cycles," Motzko said of the run on college goalies this spring and summer. "Now in college hockey, if you have a forward, D or goalie that is putting up big numbers, there is a risk he's leaving. It's just part of the business. It shouldn't be."

Both the Bulldogs and Huskies start this season with none of the goaltenders on their 2016-17 rosters having played for them before in the regular season.

In addition to losing Lindgren, St. Cloud State graduated senior backup Rasmus Reijola. The Huskies bring back sophomore David Zevnik, but he failed to ever enter a game last season.

Zevnik will compete against a pair of freshmen in Jeff Smith - who played eight games at Massachusetts-Lowell in 2014-15 - and Zach Driscoll. Both played last season in the British Columbia Hockey League.

UMD's story is similar to St. Cloud's. The Bulldogs graduated senior backup Matt McNeely in addition to losing Kaskisuo. Sophomore Nick Deery was on the roster in 2015-16, but his only game action was the third period of an Oct. 4 exhibition against Lakehead University.

UMD added a pair of Hunters - Hunter Miska of Stacy, Minn., and Hunter Shepard of Cohasset, Minn. - to compete with Deery for the starting role this year. Sandelin, entering his 17th season in Duluth, admitted this season is a new experience for him, having three goalies with zero combined regular-season games on their resume.

"I think it's the first time I've ever gone through this as a coach," Sandelin said. "It's a little bit unique, but at the same time it's exciting because you've got some guys that are hungry. If one or two stumble, there's guys there ready to play."

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Of the trio, Miska comes in with the better resume, though Deery, the Manitoba Junior Hockey League Goaltender of the Year in 2014-15, and Shepard, the 2015-16 North American Hockey League Goaltender of the Year, are no slouches.

Miska played two seasons for the U.S. National Team Development Program, then went on to play for Penticton in the BCHL for two seasons. He was a top-10 goalie his first BCHL season - posting the second-best goals-against average - and the league's top netminder in 2014-15 with a 34-9-3 record, a 1.88 GAA and .931 save percentage.

A year ago with Dubuque of the United States Hockey League, Miska was named the 2015-16 USA Hockey Goalie of the Year after leading the Saints to a franchise record 32 wins via a 2.46 GAA and .913 save percentage.

"He comes with some good credentials and some good numbers and a lot of experience," Sandelin said of Miska. "He's won a lot where he has been whether it's Penticton or last year in Dubuque. I wouldn't necessarily say he's the favorite, but we recruited him for a reason. I'll just say that."

As of now, only three of the NCHC's top 10 statistical goaltenders - North Dakota's Cam Johnson, Denver's Tanner Jaillet and Nebraska-Omaha's Evan Weninger - are back from 2015-16. A fourth, Colorado College's Jacob Nehama, has the potential to return as the Tigers' starter if he is able to fully recover from offseason hip surgery.

Like the Bulldogs and Huskies, Miami is starting from scratch in goal. Coach Enrico Blasi has sophomore Evan McCarthy back, but he's looking to a trio of freshmen, including former Minnesota Wilderness goalie Chase Munroe, to battle for the starting role.

As for who starts for the Redhawks, Blasi was more cryptic than Sandelin.

"We'll probably throw them in the hat and see what happens," he said.

Related Topics: COLLEGE HOCKEY
Co-host of the Bulldog Insider Podcast and college hockey reporter for the Duluth News Tribune and The Rink Live covering the Minnesota Duluth men's and women's hockey programs.
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