Men’s hockey goalies battle it out

by Lou Raguse

Goaltenders typically spend more time on the ice before and after practice than other hockey players.

But for Minnesota men’s hockey goalies Justin Johnson and Kellen Briggs, the extra preparation this season is playing out as a little friendly competition.

“It’s fun because everything is right in everyone’s face,” Johnson said. “If one’s doing really well in a drill, you want to get in there and do it better.”

The August announcement that Travis Weber, last season’s primary backstop, would not return to the team left the Gophers’ goalie situation a bit up in the air.

However, coach Don Lucia made it clear that Johnson is Minnesota’s No. 1 goaltender and Briggs will come in as No. 2 until they prove otherwise.

“They need to play games, and then it will play itself out,” Lucia said.

Regardless of who is in front of the net, things are business as usual for the rest of the team.

“I could care less what number our goalie has on the back of his jersey, as long as we win,” senior captain Grant Potulny said.

Third goaltender returns

Sophomore Dustin Smieja returned to the Gophers in time for the team’s first practice Oct. 2.

Smieja, a walk-on goaltender from St. Paul Johnson High School, will not play in games, Lucia said, but aids in practice as a third goalie after Weber’s departure.

“(Having Smieja) gives us quality reps, instead of getting into bad patterns when we get tired,” Johnson said.

Lines up in the air

Sophomore Thomas Vanek and seniors Troy Riddle and Matt Koalska practiced in the same line Wednesday. Junior Barry Tallackson, and the Potulny brothers – senior Grant and freshman Ryan – also grouped together.

However, Lucia has tried different combinations in each of his six practices so far, and has not decided on the lineup for this weekend’s games at the Maverick Stampede in Omaha, Neb.

“We’ve been switching daily,” Lucia said. “We probably won’t have our lines set until the game on Friday, and I’m sure our lines will be different Saturday and different the following week.”

Six practices later

Wednesday was only the sixth practice for the Gophers this season, but their biggest problems at this point are some that lower-ranked teams would love to have.

The Gophers are practicing five lines, so with 15 forwards on the roster, three will sit out any given game.

However, Lucia hopes the competition, along with the luxury of lineup choices, will help him find the right combination once Minnesota gets some games under its belt.

“It’s really hard to tell, because some people look better in games than they do in practice, and some guys look better in practice,” Lucia said.

Vanek speaks of Arnold

Before Wednesday’s practice, Vanek joked about Tuesday’s recall election in California.

New Golden State Gov.-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger was born in Vanek’s hometown of Graz, Austria.

“I’ve never met him, but it’s kind of different to see a guy from back home being a governor over here,” Vanek said.