Boston, Mass. -- Clay Witt has paid his proverbial dues. His first three seasons at Northeastern took a backseat to incumbent goalie Chris Rawlings. Witt appeared in a combined 16 games his first three seasons for the Huskies, waiting his turn to get a crack at the starting job.
For Witt, the chances are coming now.
"He's worked on his whole game, and areas that he needs to keep improving," said Northeastern head coach Jim Madigan. "But he's excited about the opportunity to play."
Witt has started a team-high nine games this season, and while Madigan has continued to be non-committal on naming a "number one," Witt has started six of Northeastern's last seven games, and his steady play is making it hard for Madigan to go to anyone else.
"Clay is in a good zone right now, so that's why we're going with him," said Madigan after a loss to New Hampshire Nov. 15.
With an impressive freshman class, it's easy to overlook the contributions of Witt, who's been a constant for Northeasern all season. After breezing to a 5-0 start, there were questions of how Northeastern would fair when the competition became tougher.
"He's given us good goaltending, he's given us timely goaltending, and he's given us a chance to win," said Madigan. "Every night is a battle. Every single weekend, you have to bring it. It's a grind."
But Witt has increased his level play as the opponent has increased in pedigree. He turned in two stellar performances to open up Hockey East play, even while both games resulted in losses to Boston College. In a weekend he surrendered seven goals, Witt still recorded 65 against the Eagles, stepping up to the challenge.
"He's seeing the puck well," Madigan said. "He's very athletic, he competes, and he battles."
The 22-year-old Florida native ranks in the top 10 in the country for in a few major goaltending statistics, including save percentage (9th), and wins (t-10th).
In Hockey East, his .936 save percentage ranks him fourth among goalies, while his sixth wins tie him for third.
"He might have a sternum bruise," said Merrimack head coach Mark Deeney, after Witt shut down his Warriors Saturday night. "We hit him in the chest a lot, but a lot of that is because he's in the right position. He made some outstanding saves."
What Witt has done so well is take advantage of above average athleticism and solid discipline to, at times, make the job look easy. He moves very well laterally, and is good at cutting down angles and dissecting the play as it develops.
"I just made a couple of saves where I was trying to fill space," Witt said after Saturday night's 38-save effort.
The 6-foot-1 sophomore recorded his first career collegiate shutout Saturday night versus Merrimack, backstopping his Northeastern team to a weekend sweep over the Warriors, gaining a crucial four points in the Hockey East standings.
With a schedule filled with some of the nation's best teams, Witt will continue to face some of college's top offenses, something that will only help his development, and allow the emerging goalie to continue to grow.
"It's imperative to get goaltending at timely places in the game," said Madigan after Saturday night's game. "Today, he made some keys saves at key points in the game for us to keep a puck out.
"When it's 1-0 or 2-0, it always close, so for the most part, he was always making key saves if you go by my words in that regard."