There are problems, and then there are good problems to have.
Count Gophers men’s hockey coach Don Lucia as having the latter when it comes to his goaltending situation.
When the ninth-ranked Gophers play host to Michigan on Friday and Saturday, Lucia can choose between Eric Schierhorn, the two-time Big Ten goalie of the year, and newcomer Mat Robson, who just shut out the nation’s top-ranked team at the time.
“Right now, we feel that we have two good goalies who can play,” Lucia said.
As for how he’ll use his goalies this weekend, Lucia has not announced his starters. In the past three series, Schierhorn has started the opener and Robson took the finale. That, however, could change.
“If somebody gets hot, we may ride them for a while and kind of go back and forth,” Lucia said. “We’re not necessarily in a situation where we’ll split every weekend. Somebody might play a weekend, somebody else might play the next weekend. It’ll be, from here on out, more merit-based, like it is for everybody.”
If Lucia goes with the hot goalie, that would be Robson. The sophomore from Mississauga, Ontario, is coming off a 34-save shutout in a 2-0 victory over St. Cloud State on Sunday, which earned him Big Ten First Star of the Week honors. Though Robson’s sample size is small — he is 2-1 in three games — he has a 1.01 goals-against average and a .964 save percentage.
“He plays such a quiet game,” Lucia said. “He’s steady, he never gets too rattled, and he’s shown that in the three starts he’s had so far.”
Robson wasn’t eligible to play for the Gophers in the first half of the 36-game season because of an NCAA sanction over his signing with the Ontario Hockey League’s Peterborough Petes organization at age 16. When injuries derailed his OHL career, Robson decided to go to Clarkson University. But because he had signed with an OHL team, the NCAA, which considers the OHL a pro league, ruled that Robson would have to sit out a year and a half.
Robson sat out the 2015-16 season at Clarkson, working a year off that sanction. But he realized playing time would be tough to get, so he left for the Penticton Vees of the British Columbia Hockey League, which is an amateur league in the NCAA’s eyes. He led Penticton to the league title and caught the eye of Lucia. After visiting the Minnesota campus, Robson was hooked.
“Being able to come down and see the facilities, it was kind of a no-brainer for me,” Robson said. “Obviously, I’m pretty happy with my choice.”
Now that he’s at least in a goalie rotation, Robson is making the most of his opportunity. The win over St. Cloud State, which subsequently dropped to No. 2, has been the highlight.
“It was definitely nice to get the first shutout and a big one against a good team like that,” he said. “But you just have to look forward to the next opponent and prepare yourself for that.”
While Robson has impressed, Schierhorn can’t be forgotten. The junior from Anchorage, Alaska, started all 75 games over his first two seasons, compiling a 43-29-3 record. Though he’s only 11-9-1 this year, his goals-against average of 2.46 and his save percentage of .911 are better than those in his freshman (2.69, .906) and sophomore (2.61, .908) seasons. He’s adjusting to the timeshare.
“It’s different, but I think you learn something, too, sitting on the bench,” Schierhorn said. “Mat’s about as calm as they get in the net. You kind of realize even more so that you don’t have to move that much, and you don’t want to make it more difficult on yourself than it already is.”
Robson is leaning on Schierhorn, too.
“As a competitor, you want to be in net all the time, but he’s a great guy and a great teammate as well,” he said. “It’s not hard to cheer for him when he’s in the net. He’s done a great job in the first half, and I just want to keep that rolling when I get my shot.”