Travis Weber, the Frozen Four all-tournament goaltender last season, is leaving Minnesota for personal reasons, taking another chip off the Gophers’ back-to-back national championship teams.
Weber, who stopped 57 of 60 shots in last year’s Frozen Four as a sophomore, made no indication as to the precise reason why he was leaving in a statement released by the school on Tuesday, but said, “This was a very difficult decision, but I believe it is the right thing for me to do at this point in my life.”
The Gophers are left with two goaltenders on their roster — junior Justin Johnson and newcomer Kellen Briggs. Johnson was named to the WCHA Final Five all-tournament team in March after stepping in for Weber, who was sidelined with an injured finger. He also started the West Regional final game against Ferris State last season, but was lifted after allowing two soft goals in the first period.
Weber’s decision came “out of the blue,” Gophers assistant coach Mike Guentzel said. With only 44 days until Minnesota opens the season, it’s too late to find another goaltender, he said, so the Gophers will stand pat with Johnson and Briggs.
“We’ve been planning all summer long on ‘What if Paul Martin signs? What if Thomas Vanek signs?’, and having that issue to deal with,” Guentzel said. “But we never thought Weber would decide he didn’t want to play hockey anymore. He called [Gophers coach] Don [Lucia] a little over a week ago and said he’d been thinking about it. We hadn’t seen much of him all summer long — most of your workouts, obviously, they have to be voluntary during the summer. It did come out of the blue, but, hey, we had three scholarship goalies, we’ve got two left and they have to play.”
Lucia was recruiting Tuesday and couldn’t be reached for comment. In a statement, he said: “We’re obviously disappointed that Travis has decided to leave the team and withdraw from school. It is a loss for our team and we’ll miss having Travis as part of the program. I hope at some point he will decide to return to school and complete his degree.”
Weber, 20, was 18-6-7 with a 2.50 goals against average and a .902 save percentage last season. The 5-foot-11, 192-pounder from Hibbing, Minn., is the second player to leave school early this summer. Martin, scheduled to be the top returning defenseman, signed with the New Jersey Devils.
But 17 of the 20 players that dressed for the Frozen Four last season are coming back, including most outstanding player Vanek, who was the No. 5 overall selection in this year’s NHL entry draft by the Buffalo Sabres.
Johnson appeared in 14 games — starting 12 — last season, and built a 10-2-2 record, 2.90 goals against average and .885 save percentage. He made a career-high 36 saves in the Final Five championship game, a 4-2 victory over Colorado College.
Briggs played the last three seasons for Sioux Falls in the United States Hockey League. He led the junior league with 1,422 saves and 2,529 minutes played last season, when he had a 16-23-4 record, a 3.71 GAA and a .901 save percentage.
In the last two seasons, the Gophers have thrived despite criticism and doubts surrounding their goaltending. Two seasons ago, Adam Hauser quieted his critics when Minnesota won the national championship. Last season, the Gophers didn’t have a set starter for the playoffs, in part because of Weber’s finger injury.
“We’re not going to be hurting by any means. We’re still going to be a legitimate contender,” Guentzel said. “We’ll have a good offensive team and we’ll develop our defense. We’ve got a pretty good corps of guys coming back, and we think with Justin and Kellen Briggs, we’ll be fine.”
Guentzel said Weber’s scholarship money will be used for players already in the program.