Third-string netminder knows value of patience, hard work

Jake Kremer has never played a game in his four-year Gophers career.

Backup goalie Jake Kremer practices Monday at Mariucci Arena. “Basically I just make practice a game for me,” said Kremer, who has yet to play in a Minnesota uniform.

Anthony Kwan

Backup goalie Jake Kremer practices Monday at Mariucci Arena. “Basically I just make practice a game for me,” said Kremer, who has yet to play in a Minnesota uniform.

Dane Mizutani

 

He was never a top-tier recruit, but the joke among Jake Kremer and his friends growing up was that one day Gophers head coach Don Lucia would call and extend one of them an opportunity to play for Minnesota.

It was all a joke until the day Lucia actually called Kremer.

“I just couldn’t really believe it,” Kremer said. “I thought it was a prank at first, maybe, but I knew his voice — I’d seen him on TV and I knew it was him.”

Kremer said Lucia called and left him a voicemail asking if he wanted to compete for a spot on the roster.

It was an easy decision for the Eden Prairie, Minn., native.

“I’ve always wanted to be part of the Gophers,” Kremer said. “I grewup watching them and to me it was a dream come true. I took the challenge and here I am.”

It has certainly been a challenge for Kremer, who has yet to appear in an official game during his four-year Minnesota career.

After playing at Eden Prairie High School and two years of minor hockey, Kremer came to Minnesota as a walk-on in 2008. Since then, he has sat on the bench and watched NHL draftees Alex Kangas and Kent Patterson lead the Gophers in the crease.

“It gets frustrating at times, but you just keep on going and have fun with it,” Kremer said. “Obviously I want to be out there, but I find ways to kind of keep myself working. Basically I just make practice a game for me.”

As the third-string goalie, Kremer knows he’s unlikely to see ice time on the weekends. That hasn’t taken away from his effort in practice.

“He comes to practice every single day and works extremely hard to make us better on the weekend,” senior captain Taylor Matson said.

Never was this more evident than Monday.

Kremer was the first player out of the locker room before practice, fully suited in his bulky goaltender pads as he hauled a bucket of pucks toward the ice.

He stepped onto the ice, still alone, and warmed up for about five minutes before the next player came out of the locker room.

Kremer then took dozens upon dozens of shots before practice began — his frustration nowhere to be found.

“Jake has grown into that role and accepted that role because he knows he’s still contributing to the team,” said Justin Johnson, the volunteer assistant coach who works with the goalies. “He knows he’s a part of something that’s bigger than just him playing on Friday and Saturday night.”

Kremer was the MVP of the Bismarck Bobcats of the North American Hockey League in 2007-08 — his final year before he came to Minnesota.

He boasted a .910 save percentage and 3.30 goals-against average that season and led the league with 1,475 saves.

While Kremer’s NAHL statistics stood out, his overall skill set did not transfer well to Division I hockey.

“If he was a Division III goaltender, he would be an All-American,” Johnson said. “He has that skill set that if he were to have chosen at some point or another to go play D-III hockey, he would have been a top-end goaltender in that league.

“I think the friendships and the education you receive at the [University] is a big part of what kept him here and kept him motivated,” Johnson added.

Kremer said that he “never really seriously considered [transferring],” and that it was more than just hockey that kept him with the Gophers.

“I’ve been frustrated over the years at times, but I couldn’t really see myself leaving,” Kremer said. “I’m part of a team here … By the time I could have maybe transferred, I was already part way through my major.”

Kremer, a kinesiology major, was awarded the WCHA Scholar-Athlete Award on Feb. 9 for the second time in his career.

“I work really hard at school,” Kremer said. “Basically my goal is to go into physical therapy in grad school and in order to do that you have to have good grades.”

Back on the ice, Kremer is still trying to be a model teammate in his final season with Minnesota.

“I hope the guys would say I’m a good role model for the fact that I’m out there working everyday and working my hardest even though I’m not playing,” Kremer said.