In his time as head coach of the Denver Pioneers hockey team, George Gwozdecky has built a reputation of recruiting two kinds of goalies: okay ones and really great ones.
He just lost the really great goaltender on his roster for potentially the whole regular season.
It was determined that super frosh, Sam Brittain, sustained a torn ACL in the WCHA championship game against North Dakota in March.
Brittain continued to play through the game (extremely well, actually) and on into the NCAA tournament. The Pioneers eventually fell to Fighting Sioux again in the second round but the blame could not be placed on Brittain.
The decision was made to see if rest and time could heal the wound but after a second opinion from a specialist in Canada, surgery was determined to be the only course of action. In retrospect, it would have been nice to have the surgery in early April but hindsight is 20/20.
Brittain is now facing a six to eight month rehab assignment, with six months getting him back in in early January and eight months basically bringing him back for the playoffs.
This leaves the Denver Pioneers with their okay goalie, Adam Murray, to fill the void. Pioneer fans should not fear that this injury will drop them from championship contenders to cellar dwellers but the absence will be felt to be sure.
Murray, the sophomore netminder, has been below average in his appearances, and has yet to show the truly dominant form that Brittain was able to find in big situations.
The formula for the Pioneers has always been to have a solid backup in place when a superstar freshman prepares to take the reigns. Think Glenn Fisher when you think of Adam Murray.
Some might look back and say that Pioneer legend Adam Berkhoel was essentially a back up to Wade Dubielwicz and once he got his chance he shined brighter than almost any Pioneer goalie ever. Could Murray do the same?
Not so fast, Berky was hardly a back up and at times showed signs of being better than Dubie while they were essentially platooning time in net.
It would be great for the Pioneers to have Murray step in and play well enough to cause a goalie controversy when Brittain returns, but don't count on it.
This injury could also cause problems for the Pioneers in terms of recruiting. There is no doubt that Gwozdecky already has eyes on the next great Pioneer goaltender.
The question becomes if Brittain doesn't rehab on schedule and the Pioneers decide to red shirt him in favor of adding an extra full season to his career, what happens to the next goalie in the Pioneer pipeline?
Great talents are not in the business of wasting too much time behind incumbent starters.
So, does Gwozdecky gamble and continue to recruit on the same plan that he normally would?
Brittain might never recapture the form he had last season, and Gwozdecky needs to be the person in the organization looking into the future.
It’s a tough situation and a shame that it had to happen to such a bright young talent. Still, Gwozdecky has been around the block a few times and will certainly have a plan.
However, the hope is that Brittain gets healthy on schedule and returns just in time for the Denver Cup, healthy and well rested as they head down the stretch.