MINNEAPOLIS — Kent Patterson was not always a goaltender and, like many others like him, did not necessarily choose the position. In the end, goaltending chose Patterson.
“I was initially a defenseman in mites but the goalie bag got passed around a lot and I was always the one to pick it up,” Patterson said. “I think the one thing that got me hooked is that I got a shutout my first game I played as goalie.”
But the Minnesota star netminder waited three full seasons before recording his first collegiate shutout and is now seemingly hooked on blanking NCAA opponents. Patterson posted back-to-back shutouts in Minnesota’s season-opening series against Sacred Heart and registered three more by the season’s ninth game, a 2-0 win over North Dakota at Mariucci Arena.
“He gives us a chance to win every single night,” said Minnesota captain Taylor Matson. “He’s just always in position and aggressive and that’s the thing that makes him really good.”
Minnesota coach Don Lucia said Patterson’s strong start should not come as a surprise.
“Let’s not forget that he was a second-team all-WCHA goalie last year,” Lucia said. “His play helped us become a better team the second half of last year and he’s [picked up] where he left off.”
With his five shutouts, Patterson has already tied Minnesota’s record for shutouts in a season, set by Robb Stauber in 1987-88. Stauber, coincidentally, also performed his feat in a nine-game stretch and went on to capture the Hobey Baker Award as a sophomore.
Stauber said there is no disappointment whatsoever in either sharing the record or potentially losing it to Patterson.
“My years at the university were fantastic; I loved every minute of it,” Stauber said. “You do what you can do when you’re there, and to see a guy like him even have a chance at something like that is … you couldn’t pick a better kid.
“If he doesn’t focus on it, which I don’t think he does, if he just stays in the moment, that won’t be his last shutout of the year.”
It is Stauber whom Patterson credits most with his development as a goaltender, having spent countless hours honing his skills at Stauber’s camps and Goalcrease Training Center from an early age.
“From the time he was a kid — he was 8 or 9 when he first started coming to my camps — you could just see that that kid was going to be really, really good,” Stauber said. “He had great intensity, great focus and, in goaltending, you’ve got to have such a strong fundamental skill set and he does.”
Patterson, a senior, has played all 12 of No. 1 Minnesota’s games this season, going 10-2 with a 1.66 goals against average and a .935 save percentage to rank among the nation’s leaders in each category.
When asked if a year ago he could have envisioned the run he has been on this season, Patterson said he never looked this far ahead.
“Last year when I was given the opportunity I was just taking advantage of the opportunity at hand,” Patterson said. “Just making sure I was coming prepared to each and every practice and continue to earn that spot that I had at that moment.”
Patterson spent his first two seasons positioned behind Alex Kangas, who is third in school history with 2,802 career saves, behind Adam Hauser (3,777) and Kellen Briggs (2,968). With Kangas entrenched as the starter, Patterson played in only 15 games as a freshman and sophomore, starting just seven of those.
“Part of it was the way [Kangas] played [Patterson's] freshman year,” said Lucia. “You have that in the back of your mind and Alex had a really good junior year, too, so there just wasn’t a lot of ice time for [Patterson].”
Stauber said while the frustration of sitting would have been too much for many goaltenders, Patterson’s approach and respect for the program is what sets him apart and contributes to his success today.
“He just kept his nose to the grindstone,” said Stauber. “Ultimately, all you can do as a goalie is control what you can do. You can’t get too far ahead of yourself. You can’t look too far back because either one of those scenarios is not going to be very good.”
But after Kangas suffered a labral tear in his left hip in a Dec. 11, 2010, practice, ending the senior’s college career, Patterson assumed the full-time starter’s role.
“[Kent] started to take it over even before the injury and had kind of taken the mantle away [from Kangas] that he deserved to be the No. 1 guy,” Lucia said, referencing that Patterson started 10 of Minnesota’s 17 games before Kangas’ injury. “Once the injury took place then he was going to play every game thereafter.”
A fourth-round pick (113th overall) by the Colorado Avalanche in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, Patterson acknowledges an NHL career has long been the ultimate goal for him. A Business and Marketing Education major, Patterson hopes for a career in hockey even if his NHL aspirations don’t pan out.
“It would be great to play in the NHL someday, just to be recognized at that level, but I know it’s going to be a long road,” Patterson said. “Hopefully I’ll be working in sports. I like the marketing side a bit more and so hopefully something with marketing and some hockey team.”
Stauber believes Patterson has the size, skills and demeanor to play at the next level and his advice to his protégé before the season was simply, “Have a great season.”
“If you stop the puck better than anyone, people are going to want you,” Stauber said. “So you don’t have to worry about where you’re going to land, how’s this thing going to shape up, or what is my future at the next level?
“You stop the puck now where you’re at and people will figure out you’re good.”