Myers: Michael Shibroski's benching doesn't mean 'U' has its goalie
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If you've spent any time with Don Lucia over his 600-win coaching career, you know he has a standard answer when a reporter asks which player will fill a particular position in a coming game.
"I don't decide who plays. The players do."
That's not him conceding any authority or admitting to inmates running the asylum. It's Lucia's way of saying what you do in practice, and in games, determines how much ice time you'll see.
If that's the case, we might have seen the initial decisions about the "U" goaltending situation made on the ice at Michigan Tech on Friday, when junior Michael Shibroski started -- but did not finish -- the Gophers' first loss of the season.
After Shibrowski faced 14 shots in the first 26-plus minutes on Friday and stopped just 10 of them, rookie Adam Wilcox came on in relief.
Wilcox -- who plays a high-risk, high-reward game that's heavy on handling the puck -- finished with 11 saves in the 5-3 loss, then collected his second collegiate win in as many starts on Saturday, taking a 3-2 decision with 16 saves.
"We talked coming in that we'd learn a little bit more about our goalies," Lucia after Friday's game in an interview with U.S. College Hockey Online.
"You can play at home and you're comfortable, and you go on the road and it becomes a little bit more difficult. Shibby made some good saves and probably let in one or two he'd like to have back. Adam came in and let in one goal, but I thought he did a good job."
Lucia, like a lot of coaches, doesn't like to have to think about goaltending.
He was known to rotate goalies with some success at Colorado College, but in his time at the "U", he's preferred to get someone good between the pipes and ride them all season long, or at least until he's forced to make a change.
He'd made it clear this season that he would rotate Shibrowski and Wilcox until one of them stepped up and "decided" who was more deserving of the starting job. So, after Saturday, in which he helped salvage a split and earned the Gophers first two WCHA points of the season, Wilcox has earned the top job, right?
Not necessarily, for two reasons.
First, it's still early. Shibrowski is 1-1 after playing less than a game and a half and will likely be given more time to prove himself. Second, there's a lighter schedule coming up, with an exhibition game Friday, a nonconference match with Canisius next Sunday and then a home-and-home set with rebuilding Minnesota State, Mankato.
One expects the rotation to continue at least through those games, with Lucia possibly settling on one goalie by the Friday after election day, when the Gophers make the long, long trip to Alaska Anchorage for a WCHA pair versus the team that was a near-unanimous pick for 12th in the league.
As for the aftermath of the Michigan Tech series, the "U" seems to be following the accepted formula for winning a conference title: sweep your home series, and split your road series.
A few years ago, a split with Michigan Tech, even on the road, would've been considered a huge failure, but things are different now. The Huskies have a new coach, a new up-tempo style, and new hope. And Saturday's hard-fought win by the Gophers could be considered a microcosm of the season that's just begun.
The "U" is clearly a more talented team, but these Huskies aren't going away without a fight.
That victory -- which came when Seth Ambroz potted his second goal of the game and the season with less than 4 minutes to play -- made Lucia just the 10th coach in college hockey history with 600 wins.
Typical to his coaching style, which has always included surrounding himself with coaching and playing talent, Lucia did his best to pass off the adoration and downplay his career milestone.
"I've had a lot of great players to coach and a great staff," Lucia told the Associated Press. "It was never my intent to be coaching in my 50s, but that's the way it's worked. I've never had a job in my life."
Although picking an every-night goalie, as the Gophers head closer to a tougher November schedule, may start to feel more and more like a full-time occupation.