In our preview of the Big Ten's goalies, I talked about the importance of goaltending in the college game. The strength of the NCHC was reflected in their goaltending last season, and that should be the case again this season. Five of the eight teams in the league return a goalie with a better than .910 save percentage last year, while North Dakota brought in the nation's best goalie recruit.
Here is our look at the goaltending situation at all eight NCHC schools. 2014-2015 statistics are listed in parenthesis. As a reminder, a .920 is considered to be about "average".
Tyler Marble, JR(27 games, .896/3.48), Jacob Nehama, FR
There's just not a lot of good news for Colorado College heading into this season. A team that was completely over-matched much of last season now has to rebuild their blue line after losing Jaccob Slavin to the NHL and losing two quality senior defensive defensemen in Aaron Harstad and Peter Stoykewych.
That means it's difficult to really assess what the Tigers have in goal. Tyler Marble was 68th nationally in save percentage and didn't crack the .900 mark, but it's hard to imagine any goalie, no matter how good they were, succeeding in the situation he was in. Marble seems like a solid goalie. He beat out NHL Draft pick Chase Perry for the starting job last season--Perry subsequently returned to junior hockey this past summer--but it looks like this could be another rough season for him.
Evan Cowley, JR(20 games, .924/2.16), Tanner Jaillet, SO(27 games, .917/2.35)
The Pioneers were pretty dedicated to their two-goalie rotation last season. At one point in early-March, there was even talk that the Pioneers might play both goalies in the NCAA Tournament. That didn't happen, with Tanner Jaillet earning the last three starts of the season, but it speaks to how much confidence Denver had in both of their goalies, and for good reason.
Usually, having two goalies see so much playing time is a bad sign--the old adage that if you have two starting goalies, then you really have none. But both Cowley and Jaillet are good enough that they could be stand-alone starters at most schools. Cowley, who is a year ahead of Jaillet in class, but a year and a half younger in age, has the higher ceiling and ended up with the better statistics last year, but, perhaps showing his youth, was also less consistent than Jaillet. If Cowley can mature a bit and avoid some of those really bad games he had last year, he could start to eat away at some of Jaillet's playing time. Either way, the Pioneers should be excellent in goal once again.
Jay Williams, SR(28 games, .917/2.04), Ryan McKay, SR(16 games, .898/3.09)
The duo of Jay Williams and Ryan McKay are back for their
tenth fourth season between the pipes at Miami. The two split minutes about 50/50 as freshmen(in the CCHA! I wasn't kidding that they've been around forever), with McKay doing slightly better with his time. McKay saw the majority of playing time as a sophomore and looked to have control of the job. But last season, McKay suffered an early injury and when he came back, he wasn't quite as sharp as he was in his first two seasons. That meant Williams saw the majority of playing time.
Who knows what that means for this upcoming season. The ideal situation would be McKay returning to the form he showed in his first two seasons. If he's healthy and playing well, his ceiling seems to be a little higher than Williams, but if McKay is unable to do that, the RedHawks should at least get a competent performance out of Williams.
Kasimir Kaskisuo, SO(36 games, .917/2.30)
We made a big deal last summer about how Kasimir Kaskisuo was the key to Minnesota Duluth's season. That turned out to be fairly close to spot on. After a shaky debut against Minnesota at the Icebreaker, Kaskisuo was outstanding through Thanksgiving, posting a .935 save percentage in that stretch, which helped lead Minnesota Duluth into the top four of the national polls. He hit a rough patch in the middle part of the season that dropped UMD to the bottom part of the top ten. But ultimately, he was good enough to get Minnesota Duluth back into the NCAA Tournament.
The same should hold true for this upcoming year, with the added benefit of knowing that Kaskisuo is capable of being the goalie UMD needs to compete with the best in the country. There is room for improvement, namely Kaskisuo being more consistent throughout the entire season. But the Bulldogs once again return a lot of talent capable of skating with any team in the country. Kaskisuo could be the key to get them to the top of the NCHC this year.
Kirk Thompson, JR(12 games, .905/2.70), Evan Weninger, FR
Nebraska-Omaha is a trendy pick to finish near the top of the league after making it to the Frozen Four last season with an extremely young team. Nine freshman played at least 10 games last year, and the team't top seven scorers were underclassmen. That group should only get better, to be sure. But any talk about UNO's success last season begins and ends with Ryan Massa.
The Mavericks gave up 139 more shots on goal than they took last season(44th nationally), for a per game shot margin average of -3.56(43rd nationally). That's not a perfect predictor of team success, but Harvard(34th nationally) was the only other team outside of the top 25 in that stat to make the NCAA Tournament. And yet, the Mavericks still finished +15(23rd nationally) in goal margin. It takes some great, great goaltending to make something like that happen, and that's exactly what they got from Massa, who tied for the national lead with a .939 save percentage.
That means junior goalie Kirk Thompson has some huge skates to fill to replace what Massa did last year. Last year, in 12 appearances, he posted a .905 save percentage, which isn't nearly good enough to get UNO back to where they were last year, but he at least showed steady improvement from his freshman season. The Mavericks really need him to continue that progression this season. It's highly unlikely he matches what Massa did last year, but he just has to be close enough that his older, more experience team can close the gap.
Matej Tomek, FR, Cam Johnson, SO(2 game, .765/5.54)
Slovakian netminder Matej Tomek takes over for Zane McIntyre. It's a lot of responsibility to hand off to a rookie goalie, especially one that is a true freshman. But North Dakota wouldn't have gone all in on recruiting Tomek if they didn't think he could be the guy. Technically, he's an extremely solid goalie and seems to have a temperament that won't get rattled under the heavy pressures of the job. It also helps to have the most talented defensive corps in college hockey playing in front of him.
Tomek might not be Zane McIntyre from day one, but he should definitely be good enough that he won't hold North Dakota back from being one of the top teams in the nation this year.
St. Cloud State
Charlie Lindgren, JR(38 games, .919/2.26)
There was a lot of pressure on Charlie Lindgren heading into last season when he assumed the full-time starting role after the early departure of goalie Ryan Faragher. Lindgren handled it well, becoming a true #1 goalie for the Huskies. A good indicator of the type of success Lindgren had was that back-up goalie Rasmus Reijola ended up playing a lot less than expected last year, largely because Lindgren felt too valuable to give a night off.
That should give St. Cloud State some confidence heading into the season knowing they are strong in goal. With a .919 save percentage, there is still some room for improvement out of Lindgren, especially with some soft goals that could be erased. But really, the biggest issue is that Lindgren just needs a little more help in front of him. He allowed exactly three goals in 14 of his 19 losses last season versus just three wins when he allowed exactly three goals. The Huskies lost over one-third of their offense just with the early departure of Jonny Brodzinski, so the offensive numbers don't seem likely to take a big jump, making it all the more imperative that Lindgren continues to play at the level he did last year.
Lukas Hafner, SR(31 games, .914/2.42), Collin Olson, JR
Lukas Hafner finally unseated eighth-year senior Frank Slubowski for the Broncos' starting goalie position last season. Hafner was 10th in the nation in save percentage in non-conference games, but struggled with a .906 save percentage in NCHC play. That split provides a pretty representative scouting report on Hafner: good enough to be a solid college goalie, but not quite elite enough to handle the tough in-conference teams Western Michigan faces.
Competing with Hafner for playing time this season is Ohio State transfer Collin Olson. Olson went to the Buckeyes straight from the NTDP and wasn't ready for college hockey as an 18-year-old. With two more years of maturity under his belt, he might be ready to make more of an impact at the collegiate level.