The 2013 NCAA Men's Ice Hockey Tournament begins today, and that means 16 goaltenders will begin to battle their way to Pittsburgh, where the Frozen Four will be held on the weekend of April 11.
To prep you for what will certainly be another explosive and exciting tournament, I've dropped some notes on every starting goalie from all 16 teams. I'll be evaluating a bunch of the games on-the-fly thanks to ESPNU, so feel free to follow me on Twitter @TheGoalieGuild and check back here over the course of the next few weeks for more NCAA goaltending insight and analysis.
Before I get started, I wanted to mention a few NCAA goalies that have signed pro contracts, something I've written about earlier in the season right here.
Aside from Andrew Hammond (Bowling Green) signing with the Senators, Northeastern's Chris Rawlings has signed an ATO with the Idaho Steelheads. Although it's not an entry-level contract with an NHL team, the Dallas Stars will certainly have their eyes on Rawlings' performance(s).
The Stars took a similar route last summer with Michigan Tech's Josh Robinson. He signed a two-way AHL/ECHL deal last season, and while he's not Dallas' official property, they are certainly grooming him for the future. Robinson worked with Stars goalie coach Mike Valley over the summer at his Elite Goalies mentorship camp, and Rawlings has worked with Valley before as well.
Beyond Hammond and Rawlings, it appears as if Jared Coreau (Northern Michigan) is spending some time in Detroit, which may mean he is discussing a possible contract with the Red Wings. If something official drops during the NCAA tournament, I'll post it here.
But with that on the back-burner for now, here's a look at each goalie in the tournament, sorted by region.
YALE - Jeff Malcolm: Entering the tournament with a 16-6-2 record, a 2.42 GAA, and a .914 SV%, the senior from Lethbridge, Alabama played a major role in Yale earning an "at large" bid. He put together two separate five-game winning streaks during the second half of the season, including one shutout in each streak.
Malcolm missed most of February due to injury, but his return sparked a five-game winning streak, and Yale has been playing much better with him back in goal.
He has given up eight goals on 62 shots in his last two games (both losses by way of shutout), so for a team that isn't as offensively gifted or as deep as in years past, he'll have to surprise everyone to get past the powerhouse known as the Golden Gophers. Furthermore, I have never seen Malcolm play before, so he's a virtual unknown for me heading into the tournament.
But as I have learned over the years, sometimes the guys that fly far under the radar end up having the biggest impact. If you're a fan of the underdog, you're a fan of Malcolm and the Yale Bulldogs.
MINNESOTA - Adam Wilcox: Because of my location here in the Twin Cities, I've had the pleasure of closely evaluating Wilcox's game this season. Not only is he statistically one of the top freshman goalies in the NCAA, but he's one of the most exciting raw-skilled prospects I've scouted in the past five years. He enters today's game against Yale with a 25-7-5 record, a 1.85 GAA, a .922 SV%, and three shutouts.
Despite playing behind one of the most talented lineups in the NCAA, Wilcox didn't coast at any point this season. Sure, there were nights where he was able to rely on Minnesota's NCAA-leading 3.51 goals-per-game to get him through some inconsistent efforts, but for the most part, he came up with the timely saves to preserve leads, sustain momentum, or kill off penalties.
No matter which way you slice it (Minnesota was 3rd in team defense with a 1.91 goals-per-game average), his reliability instilled the confidence needed to play him in 38 games, which landed him third in overall minutes played (2270:51). For a freshman, especially in a talented conference like the WCHA, that is almost unheard of.
Drafted by the Lightning 178th overall in 2011, Wilcox brings electric foot speed and a visible energy to the crease. He's aggressive, dynamic, and very flexible. His glove hand is one of the best in the NCAA, he's highly athletic, and he's one of the better puck-movers you'll find at his age. He's sheer eye-candy in the crease, fun to watch, and capable of stealing a game if his teammates fail to show up.
It certainly helps that I've seen close to 80-percent of his games this season, but if you're watching him for the first time, you'll quickly realize why he was drafted by the Lightning. The kid has skills, and he thrives under pressure.
NORTH DAKOTA - Zane Gothberg: I had originally profiled Clarke Saunders here, so apologies for a late update on Gothberg.
UND enters the tournament scoring 3.30 goals-per-game, but the combination of Saunders and freshman Zane Gothberg only posted a 2.45 GAA collectively, which was only 17th-best in the NCAA. So in terms of facing different types of pressure, knowing that Zane will have to stare down a Hobey Baker Finalist (Carsen Chubak) in today's game against Niagara is not going to be easy.
Zane played more as the season went along, entering the tournament with an 8-4-3 record, a 2.55 GAA, and a .918 SV%. He earned three straight wins in impressive fashion over Wisconsin and Nebraska-Omaha back in early-February, and has become more comfortable in his rising role with UND.
I had a chance to evaluate Zane last summer while he trained with goalie coach Dave Rogalski. During that session, I really liked how Gothberg moved. He has a lot of structure to his low game, and he reminded me a little bit of Nikolai Khabibulin in terms of utilizing his broad and large upper body, but still having quick feet and good levels of overall athleticism.
Chubak does benefit from the defensive support of blueliners Kevin Ryan and Dan Weiss, and his team does average 3.11 goals-per-game, but there's no denying the Prince Albert native's value to the Purple Eagles. But even more impressive than the NCAA-best six shutouts or the solid team in front is the fact that Chubak didn't have a single losing streak this season.
That "bounce-back" ability will be put to the test against North Dakota today; Niagara dropped a disappointing game to rival Canisius in the Atlantic Hockey semifinals, one where Chubak stopped just 24 of 29 shots.
It was the only time this season he allowed more than four goals.
UMASS-LOWELL - Connor Hellebuyck: It's rare to see an NAHL goaltender get inserted directly into the lineup of an NCAA D1 program, but both Anthony Stolarz (now in the OHL) and Hellebuyck completed that feat this season. A draft pick of the Winnipeg Jets, Hellebuyck was named the Tournament MVP after leading the River Hawks to a Hockey East title.
Hellebuyck enters the tournament with an 18-2-0 record, plus an NCAA-leading .949 SV%. He was second in GAA (1.38) only to Ryan McKay. At 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds, Connor brings an intimidating frame to the crease, and his confidence level reinforces that intimidation factor.
Like Wilcox in Minnesota, Connor settled into the starter's role after just a few games and never looked back. Connor lost his NCAA debut to DU by allowing five goals on 28 shots, and after more than a month between starts, went on a rampage and pitched shutouts in two of his next three starts.
If there's one area of Connor's game that has vastly improved since his final games with the Odessa Jackalopes, it would be his skating. Less than a year ago, he relied too much on his size to take away time and space from a shooter, but rebound control and staying upright to make secondary saves was an area of concern. It was mentioned on ESPNU that he had been working with former Lightning goaltender Dwayne Roloson on a lot of technical aspects, which has also played a role in his improved play.
But over the course of this season, scouts have pointed to his improved footwork as a big reason why he's now looking at a chance to lead the River Hawks to an NCAA title.
WISCONSIN - Joel Rumpel: Although the Badgers struggled early in the season, the team is firing on all cylinders after earning huge wins over Minnesota State, St. Cloud, and Colorado College to clinch the WCHA Championship. Rumpel, who earned a spot in the All-WCHA Tournament team, enters the tournament with a 1.84 GAA and .923 SV% this season.
Rumpel has just one loss in his last 11 games, but is not considered to be one of the most talented goalies in the tournament. Nevertheless, he's known for having a relaxed, even-keeled demeanor in the crease and positionally sound game. He instills a lot of confidence in his teammates for a sophomore, and he utilizes his 6-foot-3 frame very well. He plays a simple and technically sound game, and even when he's forced to scramble, he stays calm and displays good body control.
In my opinion, Rumpel is one of the more under-appreciated goalies in the tournament. But after coming up huge in the grueling WCHA Final Five tournament, he's in prime pouncing mode to potentially steal a game from #1 seed UMASS-Lowell.
DENVER - Juho Olkinuora: When I was living in Denver from 2004 to 2012, I had the fortunate opportunity to track, evaluate, and even work alongside some of DU's legendary goaltenders. From Adam Berkhoel to Peter Mannino and Marc Cheverie, the Pioneers could almost always rely on solid goaltending in the post-season.
The recurring theme with all of their past netminders was the high goalie IQ to go along with solid fundamentals and a strong work ethic. That theme holds true with Helsinki native and former "walk-on" goalie Olkinuora.
Juho didn't begin the season as the expected starter, but he certainly finished it as one. He stole the job from Florida Panthers prospect Sam Brittain in November and entered the tournament with a 13-5-5 record, a 2.28 GAA, and a .929 SV%. Of the handful of games I watched him play this season, I was most impressed with his 33-save shutout performance over Minnesota on March 1, which may go down as one of his best outings in a Pioneers uniform.
What I like about Olkinuora is that he's not your typical Finnish prospect. Because he developed in the USHL, he is much more of a positionally-oriented goalie, as opposed to the more outlandish, acrobatic, and ultra-athletic Finnish prospects at his age. By focusing more on staying centered in the crease and relying on square shoulders and quiet footwork to stop the puck, he conserves energy and controls his rebounds better than most sophomore goalies.
Olkinuora's latest game ended on a low note in the first-round WCHA series the CC Tigers, but the Pioneers were able to earn an at-large bid to join the field of 16.
NEW HAMPSHIRE - Casey DeSmith: The Wildcats entered the tournament in the Top-10 in terms of goals-against average (2.32), and DeSmith was a major factor in their defensive success. He not only set a school scoreless record (203:32) with three straight shutouts and four in five games, but he was named a Hockey East Honorable Mention All-Star, and was the Hockey East Goaltender of the Month in both October and November.
In November, DeSmith went 5-1-1 with a 1.65 GAA and a .951 SV% en route to the three straight shutouts. He won the Hockey East Defensive Player of the Week twice in November and stopped 30-plus shots on four occasions, including a pair of 40-plus save performances to boot.
A goalie that faced some serious adversity due to a lack of playing time in high school, Casey was tossed into the NCAA fire last season when a struggling Matt DiGirolamo lost the starting job. This year, he went 18-9-7 with a 2.24 GAA and .924 SV% and carried the starting role for the entire season.
What makes tonight's game against DU so exciting for DeSmith is the opportunity for revenge. In his only game against DU this season, he was pulled just 9:05 into the first period after allowing three goals on eight shots.
QUINNIPIAC - Eric Hartzell: The Bobcats won the ECAC this season behind stellar, steadying play from their senior goaltender. A Hobey Baker Award finalist, Hartzell has a great buffer zone in front of him on the blueline, a d-core that includes the ECAC's top defenseman, Zach Davies. Hartzell helped lead the Bobcats to an 18-0-3 streak this season, which included three shutouts and eight other games where he allowed just one goal against.
Hartzell enters today's regional matchup against Canisius with a 27-6-5 record, a 1.52 GAA, and a .934 SV%. Hartzell (White Bear Lake, MN) is known for his great net coverage due to his 6-foot-4 frame and solid athleticism. He reads plays well and brings a poised, confident demeanor to the crease regardless of the situation.
That being said, I'll be watching to see how he handles the additional pressure in uncharted territory for Quinnipiac, especially since he's targeted to sign a pro contract at the end of his NCAA career. Let's just hope that career doesn't end tonight.
CANISIUS - Tony Capobianco: The little engine that could, Canisius enters the tournament on a franchise-best eight-game winning streak, which happens to currently be the longest in the nation. The Golden Griffins are backed by junior goaltender Capobianco, who I had the luxury to see live at Mariucci Arena back on October 28. He allowed a goal on the first shot faced, then went on to stop the next 40 shots in a 1-0 loss. It was one of the best individual performances I scouted all season long.
Capobianco is comfortable playing behind a team that may not score often, but plays to their strengths as a "defense-first" system. They allow a lot of shots, but push players to the perimeter. Tony had four shutouts this season, with shot totals of 23, 35, 35, and 36. He faced 1,312 total shots in 40 games, an average of 32.8 per game. He was first in the NCAA in minutes played (2344:13), which was a few games ahead of his opponent today, Hartzell (2282:59).
When I evaluated Capobianco in his game against the Golden Gophers, his style reminded me a lot of Jaroslav Halak's. He moves in a small triangle and makes the most of his 6-foot-2 frame by playing inside the blue paint. His movements are quiet and he is very positionally sound. He'll out-wait shooters and make tough saves look easy. Everything seemed to hit him in the chest and get swallowed up, but obviously that performance was one of his better games all season long.
If he expects to get past Quinnipiac, today's performance will have to be even better.
UNION - Troy Grosenick: Despite missing some games due to injury this season, the former Cedar Rapids Rough Riders goalie has allowed just five goals in his last five games, stopping 142 of his last 147 shots. That includes a 34-save shutout over Yale en route to the ECAC Championship. Grosenick and his teammates had their fair share of mid-season struggles, as he went just 1-5-3 in a nine-game stretch from late-November to mid-January.
But Grosenick has proved in the past he can get hot at the right time, so he'll need to rely on the late-season momentum if his Dutchmen have any chance of pushing past Boston College.
Grosenick enters the tournament with a 16-9-5 record, a 2.06 GAA, and .925 SV%. That's a far cry from his 1.65 GAA and .936 SV% in 32 games as a sophomore, but there's no denying he has the skill and experience to win a big game under the bright lights of the NCAA tournament.
BOSTON COLLEGE - Parker Milner: The Eagles will have a chance to win their fourth NCAA title in six years, but this tournament presents some different obstacles for Milner.
First of all, as a senior, he'll face a different type of pressure heading into today's game against Union; Milner struggled in last Friday’s 6-3 loss to Boston University in the Hockey East semifinals, allowing five goals on 26 shots. If he isn't sharp when the puck drops, or gives up a few early juicy rebounds, Union knows they'll have a decent chance of getting under his skin.
Prior to that unsettling loss, Parker went 3-0-1 in four straight games against a much weaker opponent in Vermont. Yet he was fairly leaky in March, allowing 21 goals in seven games (4-2-1). He enters the tournament with a 22-10-4 record, a 2.59 GAA, and .912 SV%.
Small in stature, Milner is known for his quickness, athleticism, and high level of compete around the crease. He does an excellent job of challenging shooters and sealing the ice with his leg pads, he thrives when forced to make strong second-effort saves, and as a senior, he is rarely fazed by a tight game, or while playing with a one-goal lead.
But it's never easy to shake off a sloppy performance when you know your college career is on the cusp of ending, so the biggest obstacle Milner may face today is his own mind.
MIAMI (OHIO) - Ryan McKay: The RedHawks split their playing time this season between McKay and Jay Williams (also a freshman), and it's unclear which goalie will start on Saturday against the Minnesota State Mavericks. As this game preview shows, head coach Enrico Blasi hadn't named a starter, which called for a great week of competitive practices for both goalies.
Ryan has started the last seven games, and his NCAA-leading 1.37 GAA was the result of a 12-6-2 record, and the second-best team defense with a 1.73 goals-per-game allowed.
McKay struggled against Michigan in the CCHA tournament, as he was pulled after allowing four goals on 16 shots in just 31 minutes of play. The 6-2 loss was the first time all season that McKay and the RedHawks allowed more than four goals.
MINNESOTA STATE - Stephon Williams: The WCHA Rookie of the Year suffered a head/neck injury after taking a skate to the back of the mask while giving up a goal during the second period of a tough loss to Wisconsin in the WCHA Final Five. Fortunately for the Mavericks, he was cleared to play and will start against the Red Hawks on Saturday.
Williams went 21-11-2 with a 1.96 GAA, a .925 SV%, and four shutouts this season. Especially for a 1993-born freshman, he put together an impressive seven-game winning streak early in the season, beating Wisconsin, Bemidji State, and Alaska-Anchorage twice each.
Not only did Williams impress the entire WCHA with his play as a freshman, but he also helped turn the Mavericks into one of the best stories in the WCHA. Behind a more sound defense and a much better power play system, they were able to learn an at-large bid after going 16-11-1 in the WCHA and 24-13-3 overall.
NOTRE DAME: Steve Summerhays: Known for his quickness and pure puck-stopping instincts, Steve experienced a fair share of highs and lows this season, but since late-February, has sparked the Fighting Irish to a nine-game unbeaten streak (7-0-2). The Anchorage, Alaska native enters the tournament with a 21-11-2 record, a 1.94 GAA, a .922 SV%, and four shutouts.
Like Wilcox, Summerhays is aggressive and plays the position with a visible intensity. I have in my notes from previous games that he really thrives in low-scoring games, he's very fluid when executing knee shuffles and slides, and his glove hand is very strong. Summerhays is listed at just 6-foot-0 and 188 pounds, but he makes the most of his smaller frame due to quick feet and an ability to challenge shooters with poise and confidence.
If you're a fan of smaller, more athletic goalies like Wilcox in Minnesota or even guys like Jonathan Quick, you'll love Summerhays.
ST. CLOUD - Ryan Faragher: Still a raw-skilled prospect, the sophomore from Fort Frances, Ontario is known for his flexibility, compete level, and strong hand positioning and reflexes. Those elements led him to a 22-13-1 record with a 2.29 GAA and .914 SV% with three shutouts, while finishing ninth in minutes played (2120:05) and 24th in the nation in GAA.
A member of the WCHA All-Academic team, Faragher spent two years in the NAHL with the Bismark Bobcats before committing to St. Cloud State. He posted a 2.17 GAA and .921 SV% in 38 games en route to an NAHL Robertson Cup championship in 2010, then posted a 2.44 GAA and .918 SV% in 52 games in the 2010-11 season. Both years in the NAHL, Faragher was part of the All-Central Division Team.
Compared to the other three starting goalies in this region, Faragher doesn't enter the tournament with a flashy resume or a ton of regular-season success. That makes him the perfect underdog against the Fighting Irish, which gives him an edge in terms of fighting off the pressure that comes in a do-or-die game.