While the University of North Dakota hockey team might have a lot of new players joining the team this season, the UND hockey team has a lot of experience at the goaltending position. If I was a betting man and I am, I would bet good money that goaltending is going to be one of the strengths of the 2013-14 UND hockey team. In net, UND is backstopped by two very good goaltenders, sophomore Zane Gothberg (9-4-3, 2.46 GAA and .920 SV %) and senior Clarke Saunders (13-9-4, GAA 2.30 and .917 SV %).
How good are these two goaltenders? Over the last two months of the 2012-13 season, Gothberg and Saunders ranked first and third, respectively, among WCHA goalies in goals against average and first and fourth in save percentage. There’s no reason why these two goalies can’t replicate their performance from last year, again this season.
Coming into the season, UND lost 43% of their scoring punch from last year. Gone are All-American forwards Corban Knight (52g-94a—146pts) and Danny Kristo (68g-93a—161pts). Due to the depleted scoring punch: UND is going to have to lean on their goaltending and the defense corps. While we could kill a bunch of trees talking about the players UND lost last season, there’s a solid core of returning players on the UND’s 2013-14 roster. UND’s goaltending tandem is one of this year’s strengths. When it’s all said and done, UND’s two goaltenders will probably play a big part in UND’s success this season.
During the UND hockey media day, I interviewed UND returning goalies and this is what they had to say.
UND senior goaltender Clarke Saunders
Eric Burton: What are your expectations going into the season?
Clarke Saunders: I think we all have high hopes. It was kind of tough last year, going out earlier – much earlier than we expected – than we wanted. I think Hak [Dave Hakstol] said it best; we’re going to have good balance this year. I think that’s really going to help us. I think our expectations should be a national championship, and I think that anything less is a failure.
EB: Thoughts on the prospects of possibly splitting time with Zane Gothberg?
CS: Zano [Zane Gothberg] and I have an interesting battle going on. We basically split time last year, and it’s probably going to be the same this year. He’s a heck of a goalie and we’re going to work as hard as we can, play extremely well and keep it going. Whether it’s Zane or myself in the net, we both know that there’s a good guy on the bench cheering either of us on.
EB: What kind of adjustments are you going to make with all of the young defensemen in the lineup?
CS: I know for myself, the game is a lot faster. Guys are more skilled, everything is coming at you pretty quick. It takes a couple of games; it’s just the truth of sports. Your body has to adjust, and I think that patience is a key with young players. Obviously, these guys are here for a reason, they’re very good hockey players and they have a lot of skill. You can’t jump on young guys too quick. You have to give them some time to adapt and get accustomed to the game, the speed and how things work in college. I think they will do just fine.
EB: Being an elder statesman are you going to mentor the new goalie (Matt Hrynkiw)?
CS: I don’t like to say a whole lot. I wouldn’t call it mentoring personally. I am more of a guy that kind of has fun and doesn’t say anything too serious, and I just kind of hope I am good role model without saying too much, my work habits, and what I do on and off the ice. Hopefully he watches. You know what; he [Matt Hrynkiw] will be fine. There are a lot of leadership guys on this team, he and the other guys will do just fine.
EB: Can you touch on your relationship with Zane Gothberg?
CS: Zano is one of my best friends on the team. That’s why I say it’s interesting, because it’s the least negative things that you can imagine. Someone from the outside might see it as a battle for time or see Zane as an enemy. But that can’t be further from the truth. He’s a great kid, great friend, great teammate and we push each other. That’s the best thing a program could have right now.
EB: What are your thoughts on the new league?
CS: I keep getting asked this, just a few new teams, few new challenges that we got to take on. We talk about rivalries and excreta. To me, you just kind of have to let these things play out. You have to go in, prepare as much as you can, learn about as much as you can about the new teams and kind of go in and see how it goes. Kind of reassess as we go on and get as comfortable as we can.
UND sophomore goalie Zane Gothberg
Eric Burton: What are your expectations going into the season?
Zane Gothberg: As a team we want to be playing in Philadelphia at the end of the year and to win our last game of the year. Whether that’s winning the conference or doing whatever in the meantime, we want to win a national championship. That’s our ultimate goal. With that, obviously comes hard work. Being strong defensively and having a couple of guys put the puck in the net. We just got to take it one game at a time, one practice at a time and just make sure that we’re getting better every day.
EB: You have a lot of young defensemen coming in, is that going to offer some challenges for you?
ZG: I don’t think so. Obviously, hockey is a team game and we’re going to do it together and we’re going to grow over time to be closer and to be better. With that, comes a leadership role from Clarke and I and maybe our defensemen as well, Nick Mattson, Dillon Simpson and Jordan Schmaltz. Kind of stepping up and taking some young guys under their wings, just like [Andrew] MacWilliam did last year.
EB: Can you touch on your relationship with Clarke Saunders?
ZG: Love the guy. We have a great time together. We actually live at the same apartment together and it’s good. Obviously, we know that only one goalie can play at time. So, it makes a little bit challenging in that sense, because we both want the net so bad and we both want to compete to have that net and have that net for a while. It’s a competitive respect I’d say, where we know each other, were pushing each other. But at the same time if we don’t get that start that night or the other guy is playing really well, and he has played really well for the past few weeks, you keep on going. You put the team in front of you before any of your individual goals; you make sure that’s the number one priority.
EB: What do you think about the new league?
ZG: Yeah! I am looking forward to it, especially with the shootouts that they’ll have at the end of the game, if there’s a tie. That will be kind of cool. Obviously, the league is very competitive. You have to take it with a grain of salt with the preseason rankings. You have four or five teams that are in the top ten of the AP poll, or whatever it might be. So, that’s kind of cool to see that. Every single weekend, you’re going into a dog fight, you’re going into a battle with the other teams in the conference. I think it will be great. To not only do well and be successful in that league, but it will also help us out for post-season play coming into the NCAA tourney. Going into the NCAA tourney, you got to be playing your best hockey, at that time of the year. So, it will only force us to be that much better.
EB: Did the last game (against Yale) leave a bad taste in your mouth?
ZG: We still have a bitter taste ever since that game against Yale. You hate to go out like that. Obviously, we put a lot of time, effort, sweat, tears and that. It just gives you that much more motivation to get in here, get in the weight room, work that much harder, get on the ice, kick your butt. Just make sure that you do the little things that equal up to the big picture every single day.
In conclusion, every UND hockey player that I talked to on media day touched on the loss to the Yale Bulldogs in the NCAA West regional. That loss did not sit well with the UND players. Walking around the bowls of the Ralph Engelstad Arena, there is a sense of urgency going into the season. The time for talking is over, UND plays against the Manitoba Bison on October 6, 2013 at 7:07 p.m. at the Ralph Engelstad Arena.
Eric is a 1996, 1999 graduate of the University of North Dakota. Eric covers the University of North Dakota Hockey and Division I college hockey. Eric is the Contributing Editor for Inside Hockey.