Boston Bruins goaltending prospect Zane Gothberg is heading to the Frozen Four after fastening a small, yet dense sample of big-game aptitude to his transcript. With 66 saves on 69 shots over two NCAA Midwest Regional games in Cincinnati, he backstopped the underdog University of North Dakota to next week’s national semifinals in Philadelphia.
UND entered its four-team regional as the No. 4 seed, but dispatched top-seeded Wisconsin in the opening round, 5-2, last Friday. The following night, Gothberg repelled 44 stabs, including 14 in the first sudden-death stanza, en route to a 2-1, double-overtime triumph over Ferris State.
In his account for UND's media relations, Jayson Hajdu wrote that, between the 1-1 equalizer halfway through regulation and the double-overtime decider, “It was the Gothberg show from that point on...Numerous times throughout the final 40 minutes of regulation, UND appeared to be reeling and hanging on for dear life.”
When such an observation is published on the team’s own website, the authenticity of the goaltender’s clutch strength emboldens. Other outlets relayed comparable credit to the sophomore stopper from his skating mates.
As quoted by U.S. College Hockey Online reporter Timothy Boger, Grimaldi offered, “We definitely started sitting back on our heels. We’re not exactly sure why that happened, but it happened and Zane kept us in it."
With the win, in which he naturally earned first-star accolades, Gothberg crossed a couple of thresholds in his cumulative season statistics.
With a 20-9-3 record, he is now one of nine NCAA netminders with at least 20 victories. Having whittled his goals-against average down to 1.99 in those 32 appearances, he is one of six masked men in the nation with a GAA south of two.
By halting all but one of Ferris State’s 45 bids, Gothberg elevated his save percentage to .926, good for a spot among the top 10 on the national leaderboard.
All of this continues an emphatic evolution from his freshman campaign. In 2012-2013, Boston’s sixth-round draft pick from 2010 mustered a .920 save percentage and 2.46 GAA in 17 appearances.
In the midst of that, Gothberg was, at best, in the passenger’s seat of the UND goalie guild with then-junior Clarke Saunders. Among budding Bruins backstops, he had a backseat to Malcolm Subban, then a celestial stopper for major junior’s Belleville Bulls, and first-year AHL sensation Niklas Svedberg.
This season, he has supplanted the senior Saunders as North Dakota’s No. 1 netminder and has made a can’t-miss difference. Saturday’s sudden-death thriller punctuated that notion.
As clinching goal-scorer Connor Gaarder told the Associated Press, “The goaltending with Zane back there is the backbone of this team."
No argument from the data. As a team, North Dakota boasts a comparatively swollen 2.44 GAA in 41 outings so far in 2013-14. The club is barely above .500 (5-4-0) when Saunders is the goalie of record.
Meanwhile, Subban and Svedberg constitute the Bruins’ minor pro tandem in Providence and neither is going to abdicate his slot in the pipeline on command. Gothberg, however, is grooming himself to fill an eventual vacancy with relative facility.
By virtue of age and experience, Svedberg is the top prospect for at least the short run. Assuming Boston does not re-sign pending free agent Chad Johnson, the Swedish stopper figures to serve as Tuukka Rask’s new apprentice in 2014-15.
But in terms of talent and potential, Hockey’s Future ranks Subban and Gothberg first and second, respectively, on Boston’s prospect chart.
The same website makes the following observations in the “Talent Analysis” section of Gothberg’s player page:
Competitive to the point where he hates to give up on a play, and long-limbed at 6’1” and growing, Zane is able to make stops that look out of reach…Mentally, he appears very strong…Overall, Gothberg displays some uncanny natural instincts, reads the play well, and has the poise and patience to wait out shooters in one-on-one situations.
It is unclear whether Gothberg will max out his collegiate eligibility, return to UND for one more season or pursue professional hockey in 2014-15. Either way, he is bringing his skill set to light and solidifying his spot among a surplus of quality goalies in the Bruins’ system.
Depending on the development of each player, one of the three goaltending prospects in question should eventually become trade bait. If and when Boston wants to address a need elsewhere, it could package one of Gothberg, Subban or Svedberg.
Assuming he stays under black and gold auspices, Gothberg will almost certainly need a year or two of AHL seasoning. Having taken the U.S. college route, he will need that Providence stepping stone to simulate an NHL-style regimen.
With that being said, he has the look of a dependable Baby B’s backstop in the making. Whether he is challenging Subban for Providence crease time in 2014-15 or 2015-16 or leading the internal race sometime later, he merely needs to carry over and build on the foundation he has laid in Grand Forks this year.
If Gothberg remains at North Dakota through graduation in 2016, there is a chance the Bruins will have moved on from Subban or Svedberg (or vice versa) by that point. Or he might be raring to fill a different organization’s needs after bringing an appreciable return package to Boston’s system.
Even if Subban or Svedberg emerges as Boston’s backup for the long run, it helps to have a competitive AHL affiliate for prospect development. Gothberg is sculpting evidence that he is capable of filling a key role in that endeavor.
Come what may, that future will become more apparent after the immediate future. The immediate future holds a national semifinal confrontation with the mighty Minnesota Gophers and Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Adam Wilcox.
In turn, outdueling the Gophers goaltender will be an absolute must for any other NCAA title contender. That task, and therefore another chance to flex some coveted proficiency under pressure, falls unto Gothberg.
Unless otherwise indicated, all statistics for this report were found via collegehockeystats.net