In hockey, behind every successful team is an excellent goaltender. They are the backbone of the team, the last line of defence, the ones who are meant to perform great feats in order to save their team’s bacon. Without superb goaltending, a team has no chance of becoming a champion.
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While there will be no national champion crowned in 2020, that does not mean the Mike Richter Award is not going to be handed out. The award has been given to the goaltender who has proven he is the best in the country since 2013, and the final five candidates have shown why they deserve the title as best netminder in the NCAA.
Matthew Galajda (Cornell University)
Out of the five netminders to be nominated for this season’s award, Matthew Galajda is the only one to have been nominated before. The Big Red goaltender was nominated after his incredible 2017-18 freshman season that saw him go 21-5-2, with a 1.51 goals-against average (GAA) and .939 save percentage (SV%). While his GAA and SV% this past season were not able to eclipse his career-best, Galajda was a big reason why Cornell was the No. 1 team in the nation.
The undrafted netminder went 23-2-4 this season, with a 1.56 GAA and .931 SV%, finishing second in the country in GAA and wins. He also finished tied for second in shutouts with five, including three in a row where Galajda shut the door on Yale, Brown and St. Lawrence in late February.
Galajda is the only Cornell goaltender to ever be nominated for the award, and has certainly shown why he could be successful at the next level. He earned Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference’s All-Star Third-Team honours, while being named a member of the All-Ivy League First-Team, and Ivy League Player of the Year.
Spencer Knight (Boston College)
Arguably the most highly touted goaltending prospect heading into last year’s NHL Draft, Knight was selected 13th overall by the Florida Panthers. This coming after a good amount of success with the U.S. National Team Development Program on the international stage.
Knight started off his first season with the Eagles rather inauspiciously, going 2-3-1. However, he immediately hit his stride in early November, going on a nine-game win streak to set the course for the rest of the Eagles’ season. He ended up with a 23-8-2 record on the season, helping Boston College clinch the top spot in the Hockey East Association.
Knight finished the season with a 1.97 GAA and a .931 SV%, both tied for eighth in the country. He also finished tied for second with Galajda in shutouts with five. Knight ended up earning Hockey East All-Rookie honours, along with being named Second Team All-Conference. He looks to become the second Boston College goaltender to win the award, with Thatcher Demko winning it back in 2016.
Strauss Mann (University of Michigan)
If there is an underdog to win this year’s Mike Richter Award, it is Strauss Mann. The Wolverines finished the season outside the top 20 in the NCAA, but were able to finish third in the Big Ten Conference thanks to their goaltender’s efforts.
While Michigan had a horrible start to the season, going 7-11-2 through the New Year, Mann was putting together solid outings each and every game. His play eventually helped the Wolverines turn things around, going 9-3-2 down the stretch, and were able to advance to the semifinals in the Big Ten Tournament.
Mann ended the season with a 16-13-4 record, tied for eighth in the NCAA with Knight with a 1.97 GAA, and finished with a .936 SV%, good for sixth in the country. The Greenwich, Connecticut-native played in all but one game this season, and ended up stopping 942 shots, which was also sixth among NCAA netminders.
Jeremy Swayman (University of Maine)
The only goaltender this year to be nominated for both the Mike Richter and Hobey Baker Awards, Swayman is the first goaltender to accomplish the feat since Thatcher Demko in 2016. While his overall numbers may not have been mind-blowing, it was Swayman’s value to the Black Bears that made him one of the best in college hockey.
The Boston Bruins prospect helped Maine to a fourth-place finish in Hockey East after going 18-11-5 during the regular season, resulting in a No. 15 national ranking. Swayman was able to earn a 2.07 GAA, while picking up three shutouts in his 34 games. He had a .939 SV%, which was the second-best in the country.
His save percentage is outstanding when you look at the fact that Swayman faced more shots than any goaltender in the NCAA in 2019-20. The Anchorage, Alaska-native saw 1,170 shots this season, and stopped 1,099 of them, by far the most in the country. He was named Hockey East’s Goaltender of the Year and Player of the Year, while being named conference First-Team All-Star and to the All-USCHO Second-Team.
Dryden McKay (Minnesota State University)
There was no goaltender more consistent in 2019-20 than McKay, who was a huge part of the Mavericks’ juggernaut. With the help of their sophomore netminder, Minnesota State was able to take the Western Collegiate Hockey Association’s regular-season crown, while finishing the season ranked No. 3 in the country.
Statistically, McKay was the best goaltender in the country. He went 28-4-2, finishing with a 1.30 GAA, .943 SV% and 10 shutouts. McKay finished first in the NCAA in wins, goals-against average, save percentage and shutouts, while finishing third in minutes played.
Playing in all but one game this season for the Mavericks, the Downers Grove, Illinois-native had two eight-game win streaks this season, including a 10-game win streak that spanned from November through the Christmas Break. McKay was given All-USCHO and WCHA First-Team honours, while also being named the WCHA’s top goaltender.
There is no question each of these goaltenders is deserving of this award. They have shown throughout the season that they were the best in their position, and it was their efforts that helped give their team success. The winner of the award, along with the Hobey Baker and the rest of the NCAA’s individual awards, will be announced on Saturday night on the 11 p.m. EST telecast of SportsCenter on ESPN.
I’m a broadcast journalist from West Michigan, with an incredible passion for the game of hockey. After playing in goal for 16 years, I realized that my time on the ice was up, and chose a slightly different path working in the media. It is just as demanding, just a little less physical.