Sioux goalies save series vs. U

Michael Rand

Aaron Schweitzer will not be named to any All-WCHA teams this season. Same goes for Toby Kvalevog. Ditto for Aaron Vickar.
The trio of North Dakota goalies has shuttled in and out of starting roles with the same frequency as marginal New York Yankees players travel between the Big Apple and the team’s Triple-A affiliate in Columbus, Ohio.
It’s not because they’ve been injured. It’s not that UND coach Dean Blais has three Robb Staubers on his roster and can’t decide which stone wall to start from night to night.
Rather, Blais’ selection process often comes down to process of elimination — which one is the least inconsistent at gametime.
This fact is not a secret. The combined .864 save percentage and 79 WCHA goals allowed by Schweitzer, Kvalevog and Vickar this season before this weekend’s series with Minnesota were the prime reason the Sioux — despite having six of the top 15 scorers in the league — still trailed the Gophers in the standings.
Earlier this season at Mariucci Arena, the Gophers notched 13 goals in a sweep of the Sioux. Still, the mystery of the trio’s potential for ineptitude eluded the Gophers this weekend.
Schweitzer — a freshman who had started just two WCHA games prior to Friday night — started in goal both nights, giving Minnesota a golden opportunity. The formula was simple: Riddle him with shots and watch him crack. Instead, the Gophers struggled to even get the puck out of their own end.
“I couldn’t tell you how good of a goalie he is,” Gophers junior Casey Hankinson said after the series was over.
In two games, the Gophers put 51 shots on Schweitzer, scoring six goals. The shot total isn’t extraordinarily low, but Minnesota’s quality chances were few and far between. Aside from a fantastic diving save Schweitzer made on Dave Spehar during Friday’s game, he was decidedly shaky on the Gophers’ few other chances.
“I was laughing. I think it even surprised him,” UND coach Dean Blais said about Schweitzer’s big save. “I think it gave him a bit of confidence. Other than the Colorado College game (a 3-0 shutout win), he’s been a little shaky. But tonight he didn’t have to be spectacular.”
Wyatt Smith’s uncontested slap shot from just inside the blue line beat Schweitzer low on his glove side in the second period Friday night to cut UND’s lead to 2-1. After the Sioux built their lead back to 4-1, the Gophers again capitalized on limited opportunities to creep to within a goal once again.
After that, however, Minnesota never mounted a serious attack until it was too late. Rico Pagel’s goal with less than three minutes left probably served more as an additional frustration rather than a reward.
“If we would have gotten 35 or 40 shots with our normal scoring chances, we would have won the game,” Smith said after Friday night’s 6-4 loss.
Lethargic play, which hurt the Gophers in many ways during the weekend, was particularly damaging in terms of offensive output.
That Schweitzer ended the test with an incomplete grade was frustrating enough for the Gophers. What made the situation worse was that they had a sneaking suspicion a completed exam would have resulted in a failing grade.
Co-captain Mike Crowley said the team is capable of scoring seven or eight goals a night when the offense is clicking. When reminded of who was in goal, he just rolled his eyes and nodded his head, signifying his disappointment at the team’s missed opportunity.
“We just didn’t get many shots,” Crowley said. “It’s frustrating. The only thing you can control is how hard you work, and they outworked us to get the good chances.”