Goalie carousel keeps turning as playoffs approach

Adam Fink

Travis Weber has started in goal for 72 percent of Minnesota’s men’s hockey games this season.

Backup Justin Johnson has backstopped the other nine games.

However, the two sophomores have alternated starts the past month – Weber starts on Friday, Johnson follows on Saturday.

During the stretch, Weber and Johnson hold identical 3-1 records. Overall, Weber has a .900 saves percentage while allowing 2.59 goals per game. Johnson has a .880 saves percentage with a 3.10 goals-against average.

Heading into the final four games before the WCHA playoffs – beginning this weekend with a series against Denver, coach Don Lucia said he has no intention of labeling one goaltender as his clear-cut starter.

Before Johnson got the nod Feb. 1 at Alaska-Anchorage, Weber made 16 consecutive starts for the Gophers.

“They determine their playing time,” Lucia said. “We will continue to take it game by game.

“What’s most important is to have somebody playing sharp, whether its two guys or one.”

Lucia isn’t concerned with playing either Weber or Johnson for the final four games to get them ready for the playoffs.

In fact, Lucia’s past indicates he has no preference.

Last season, Minnesota won the NCAA national championship with four-year starter Adam Hauser shouldering the goaltending load.

When Lucia coached Colorado College in 1995-96, the Tigers went to the national championship game with two goaltenders – Ryan Bach and Judd Lambert – alternating in net.

“I’ve had success both ways,” Lucia said. “There is not a set formula to winning.”

Gophers 8th in Pairwise

Minnesota (18-8-7, 13-6-5 WCHA) is eighth in the latest Pairwise Rankings, a computer program designed by United States College Hockey Online to mimic the NCAA selection committee’s process for earning a bid to playoffs.

Using a team’s Rating Percentage Index as its main component, Pairwise Rankings has correctly predicted the NCAA field the past five years.

For Lucia, who looks at the ranking every week, it’s not about where the Gophers sit right now but just about making the tournament.

If part of the 16-team field, Minnesota would be placed at Mariucci Arena, host of the West Regional this season.

This is because the NCAA said if a school is playing host and selected for the tournament, they are placed at their own regional.

At Mariucci Arena this season, the Gophers are 9-4-4. In addition, there have been standing-room only crowds for every regular season home game at the 10,000-seat arena.

Included in the top-16 teams of the Pairwise Rankings are WCHA teams Colorado College (No. 1), St. Cloud State (tied for eighth with Minnesota), North Dakota and Minnesota State-Mankato (tied for 11th) and Denver (14).

Under the weather

Junior Joey Martin, expected to play defense last weekend at Minnesota-Duluth, came down with the flu Thursday night and was held out of the lineup.

The Rogers, Minn., native was feeling better Sunday and is expected to practice this week.

Martin has tallied five points this season.

Stat watch

 Freshman Thomas Vanek’s 24 goals are just nine short of the Gophers’ freshman record.

Minnesota legend John Mayasich scored 32 goals in the 1951-52 season. With one more tally, Vanek will tie Aaron Broten (1979-80) and Darby Hendrickson (1991-92) for second.

 Defenseman Matt DeMarchi is closing in on the all-time penalty minute mark.

The senior has tallied 436 penalty minutes throughout his career and stands only 17 minutes shy of Chris McAlpine’s record 453 minutes, set between 1990-94.

Adam Fink covers men’s hockey and welcomes comments at [email protected]