MEN'S HOCKEY: Despite battling for playing time, UND’s goalies are fans of one another
Each television timeout, the starter will skate over to the end of the bench, grab a drink of water and share a quick chat with the other goalie. Their exchanges often end with a high-five.
UND netminders Clarke Saunders and Zane Gothberg have battled fiercely for playing time during the past two seasons, but have become each other’s biggest supporters at the same time.
“They’ve gotten to be pretty tight,” UND volunteer goalie coach Karl Goehring said. “I’ve seen that a lot with goaltenders, because you understand what the other guy is going through. It makes it easy to relate to. Clarke and Zane support each other really well. It’s a pretty neat dynamic.”
Two years ago, Gothberg came to campus as a freshman. Saunders arrived as a junior transfer from Alabama Huntsville. Immediately, a highly contested battle started for the No. 1 goaltender position.
Saunders ended up getting 25 starts to Gothberg’s 17 in the first season. Both played in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association and NCAA tournaments.
Behind the scenes, they created a unique bond along with third-string goalie Tate Maris as they pushed each other.
“From afar, you see it’s a very competitive position,” Saunders said. “Last year, we basically split starts. This year, Zane has rolled with it and played really well. Off the ice, we’re good friends. We have a pretty special bond. I don’t know if you’ll find that everywhere with two competing goalies.”
UND coach Dave Hakstol said their friendship is apparent.
“I know it’s simple, but I just think they’re good teammates,” Hakstol said. “Obviously, Clarke is the elder statesman, not only with the goalies, but also on our team. He’s very much a respected veteran player in our locker room.
“Those two have pushed each other. They’ve supported each other. And one of the two has always given us good goaltending.”
That has especially been the case this season.
While UND struggled to find its way in the first half of the season, its goaltenders were able to steal some games, allowing UND to make a run at the National Collegiate Hockey Conference title and a spot in the NCAA tournament.
In November, Saunders had 36-save and 34-save performances to allow UND to steal victories over Nebraska Omaha and Minnesota Duluth in games that UND was outshot by 10-plus.
In December, Gothberg stole a pair of games at Western Michigan in games where UND was outshot by 14 and nine. Those games helped spark a nine-game unbeaten streak.
“We’re really fortunate in that regard,” Goehring said of the 1-2 punch in net. “We feel either one of those guys can play a key role for us and potentially steal a game for us.”
Hakstol simply stated, “They care about providing good goaltending for their teammates.”
This weekend, Gothberg is expected to be the guy in net as UND takes on Miami in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff in Minneapolis’ Target Center. But if anything happens, Saunders says he’ll be ready to step in and play.
If not, he’ll be Gothberg’s biggest fan.
“We’re certainly different guys,” Saunders said. “Zano has got a lot of energy. I’m probably a little more calm. But at the same time, we definitely share a lot of the same interests.”