Story by Jackson Riebel
MINNEAPOLIS – The No. 9/11 Gopher Hockey program returns to Big Ten action this weekend, hosting unranked Michigan for a two-game series at 3M Arena at Mariucci. Minnesota settled for a loss and a tie in an early-season series at Ann Arbor this November, and will seek an improved performance this weekend on home ice.
Sharing the Net
After relying on junior goaltender Eric Schierhorn to start an NCAA-record 94 consecutive games over the course of two and a half seasons, Gopher Hockey has welcomed the addition of sophomore goalie Mat Robson to the locker room.
Robson has been steady in three starts for Maroon and Gold this season, and was the deciding factor in Sunday’s 2-0 shutout victory over No. 1 St. Cloud State. Robson’s 34-save performance earned him the Big Ten’s First Star of the Week, his second conference honor in as many weeks.
Head Coach Don Lucia says he plans to use both Robson and Schierhorn in net moving forward this season.
“Right now we feel that we have two good goalies that can play, and it’s nice to be in a situation where they can push each other,” Lucia said Wednesday. “If somebody is hot, then we may ride them for a while, kind of go back and forth. From here on out it will be merit based, like it is for everybody.”
One could worry that sitting an incumbent goalie such as Schierhorn may damage the player’s confidence or work ethic, but Lucia had nothing but praise to give when asked how Schierhorn has adjusted to sharing the net.
“Eric’s got a great attitude. He’s such a team guy, and the players love him. I don’t worry about that at all. It’s nice to know that at times you can ease somebody’s workload.”
Shortly after Lucia spoke to the media on Wednesday, Schierhorn stepped in front of the cameras and told reporters that he’s using Robson’s starts to improve his own game.
“Yeah, it’s different, but I think you learn something too, sitting on the bench. Mat’s about as calm as you get in the net, so you kind of realize even more that you don’t have to move that much, and you don’t have to make it more difficult on yourself than it already is. It’s kind of nice to see it from that perspective.”
Having two qualities goalies in the pocket could prove to be a valuable asset as the team nears tournament play, and Robson is determined to be ready whenever his name is called.
“Every [opponent] is different and every game is different, so you just got to prepare yourself mentally and be ready to go.”
Change of Heart
After helping the U.S. Junior National Team to a bronze medal at the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship in Buffalo, N.Y. last Friday evening, sophomore Ryan Lindgren and freshman Casey Mittelstadt were hoping to return to Minnesota in time to play against St. Cloud State the following day. However, complications with their return travel forced the pair to watch the series opener from home in the Twin Cities.
Minnesota opened the scoring with an early goal from senior Mike Szmatula, but failed to capitalize on the momentum and ultimately fell by a score of 5-2 at the National Hockey Center on Saturday night. When the team reviewed film from the loss the next morning back in Minneapolis, Lucia asked Lindgren for his thoughts after watching the game the night before. The alternate captain was happy to share them with the team.
“Getting swept at Ohio State and Notre Dame, it just wasn’t going very good for us. I heard against Army we didn’t play that great, and that St. Cloud game was embarrassing to watch,” Lindgren said Wednesday when asked about the film session. “So when Don asked me that the next morning at video, I thought I’d express how I felt.”
Whatever Lindgren said during that film session must have helped to some effect. The team turned in perhaps its gutsiest performance of the season Sunday night, shutting out the top-ranked Huskies in the series finale.
“I know we got such a great team in there, with a bunch of great players, so we got to expect more out of each other. That game [Saturday night] just looked like we didn’t really care, and there wasn’t a lot of heart. That’s something we have to change, and we did Sunday. Hopefully we keep doing that going forward. I think we will.”
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