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TOM MILLER: UND faces uncertainty in net heading to homestretch

 DENVER — UND’s Mile High weekend at Magness Arena was generally successful, highlighted by a convincing win Friday followed by another strong showing Saturday.

But there still has to be a level of unease — as much anxiety as a team as hot as UND can feel, at least.

UND, which has lost just once in the last 11 games, will enter the homestretch of the regular season schedule with a question mark in net.

Not to say backup Clarke Saunders has been bad; he hasn’t. But UND doesn’t know when its hot hand of Zane Gothberg will return.

Gothberg, who led UND during the 10-game unbeaten streak entering Saturday’s matchup with Denver, suffered a lower-body injury in practice last week and didn’t make the trip to Colorado.

UND fans spent a lot of time last season hoping Gothberg would take the reins of the starting job, show the top-end talent he possesses and avoid the momentum-swinging soft goal.

That’s what Gothberg, a sophomore from Thief River Falls, began to do during this recent unbeaten stretch. That makes the timing of the injury and the questionable nature of his return the more unfortunate.

Saunders, who transferred from Alabama-Huntsville, has been a strong goalie in his UND career. He led UND to the championship game of the regional tournament a year ago, losing to eventual national champion Yale.

Saunders also performed well in the Denver series opener. He stopped 29 of 31 shots he faced in his first game action since Nov. 29 against St. Lawrence.

Saunders is no slouch. But he also hasn’t been Gothberg this year. Entering the weekend, Gothberg was allowing 2.26 goals-against compared to Saunders’ 3.34. Gothberg was stopping 91.4 percent of the shots he faced, while Saunders was stopping 90.5.

On Saturday, Saunders surrendered a pair of goals that the Brockville, Ont., native had a chance to stop.

Saunders certainly wasn’t the culprit in the series finale against the Pioneers. UND didn’t score a goal, after all.

And as the season continues, Saunders might even carry UND during Gothberg’s absence.

But when teams have a good thing going, they go out of their way to keep the routine the same. That striving for consistency ranges from the starting lineup to which socks the players are wearing.

So when a team makes a change as important as a goalie, it leaves a program and a fan base in a state of uncertainty.

Tom Miller

Miller has been with the Grand Forks Herald sports department for the past 13 years. He's also a Grand Forks native and UND graduate. 

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