As the milestones and the records pile up for Gophers junior goalie Eric Schierhorn, a legitimate debate has begun about whether he deserves a mention among some of the great netminders in the program’s history.
Last Saturday’s 4-0 shutout of Michigan State in Minneapolis was the 50th win of Schierhorn’s career, making him the 12th Gophers goalie to reach that milestone. With a school record 83 consecutive starts and counting, he’s already in the top 10 in program history for wins, and has at minimum another three-fourths of a season to play.
Gophers coach Don Lucia isn’t ready to put Schierhorn on the Mount Rushmore of Gophers goalies yet (alongside the likes of Robb Stauber, Brad Shelstad, Jim Mattson and Steve Janaszak) but is convinced that the off-season work Schierhorn put in has been a big part of the strong start that has helped the Gophers to the #2 ranking in one of the national polls after 10 games.
“This year he’s playing well. Ten games in, I think it’s safe to say that he’s playing his best hockey as a Gopher,” Lucia said on Wednesday. “We’re 7-3 and there’s obviously some areas of our game we have to improve upon. We’re certainly not a finished product, but Eric’s been there to bail us out so far…He has yet to have a bad game, and that’s a big reason we’re 7-3 so far.”
Early this week Schierhorn was named the NCAA’s third star of the week, and the Big Ten’s first star of the week for his blanking of the Spartans. The Gopher players are quick to credit Schierhorn for the early success, due in part to the goalie’s off-ice regimen.
“I know he put in a lot of work in the off season and did a great job of getting in the weight room and working with his goalie coaches,” said junior forward Tyler Sheehy, who admits the team plays more relaxed knowing that Schierhorn is likely to bail them out when mistakes are made. “He’s been phenomenal so far this year and has been consistent, which is most important. He’s always going to have a solid effort with us and we can rely on him.”
The Gophers travel to Michigan this weekend for a pair, where they will face a revitalized Wolverines program led by first-year coach Mel Pearson. A Michigan assistant coach for more than 20 years, Pearson helped the Wolverines win a pair of NCAA titles in the 1990s (beating Lucia’s Colorado College team in the 1996 title game), then revitalized the Michigan Tech program in his first head coaching job. Pearson returned to Ann Arbor when Red Berenson retired last spring and has a 5-3 record so far at Michigan.
The Gophers will also be greeted by one of the more raucous crowds in college hockey when they get to Yost Arena. In the past few seasons the Gophers have had a rough go at Michigan on Friday nights and have rebounded to win on Saturday night. It’s a trend they look to stop.
“We’re coming in extra focused. You can’t really think about past Friday nights,” Schierhorn said, admitting he looks forward to the non-stop abuse he knows is coming from the Yost student section. “You love it. As a goalie I take pride in wanting to shut those guys up. You want to play in those environments…You mostly hear it between whistles or during TV timeouts, and they give you the ‘ugly goalie’ chat when you take off the mask, but during the game you don’t really hear much.”
With the stats, wins and accolades piling up, it would be hard to claim that the Gophers have an ugly goalie these days.
After winning an eighth NCAA title last spring and returning most of their team intact, Denver was the consensus pick to repeat, and held the top ranking in the nation throughout October. The Pioneers started 4-0-2 and allowed just 12 goals in their first six games. Then they allowed 13 goals last weekend, getting swept at Western Michigan.
Those two Denver losses, coupled with St. Cloud State’s home sweep of Minnesota Duluth which moved the Huskies to 7-0-0, allowed St. Cloud State to take over the top spot in both national polls this week. That target on the Huskies’ backs comes just in time for them to visit Denver for a pair this weekend.
“They got beat twice, so they’re going to be ornery,” Huskies coach Bob Motzko said. “We’re going to catch their A game, so it’s a great test for us.”
The Huskies missed the NCAA tournament last season and finished fourth in the NCHC, but returned virtually everyone – including their top 10 scorers – from a team that seemed beset by bad luck last season. They’ve been healthy and have gotten great goaltending so far, hence the undefeated mark and the spot atop the national polls.
“I still don’t know if we have the right line combinations,” Motzko admitted. “We’re still a team that’s searching for the right identity and how we want to have this thing look down the stretch, and it may take a while. But I like our pieces.”
After a home split with Minnesota State last weekend in Marquette, Mich., Northern Michigan has ascended to #20 in one national poll. It’s the first time in the top 20 since 2014 for the Wildcats, who are sporting a 5-3-0 record in their first season being led by coach Grant Potulny.
Gophers fans surely remember Potulny not just for being the first non-Minnesotan recruited by Lucia when the latter took over the Minnesota program in 1999, but also for scoring the overtime winner in the 2002 NCAA title game.
Potulny, originally from Grand Forks, N.D., was one of Lucia’s assistants for eight seasons before getting the Northern Michigan job last spring. The Wildcats’ first visit to Minnesota comes in early December when they play a pair at Bemidji State.