North Dakota coach Dean Blais didn’t have to say much to sum up his team’s 2-0 national semifinal victory over Maine Thursday.
His goaltender, Karl Goehring, did most of the talking with his play on the ice.
Goehring, who missed the Western Collegiate Hockey Association Final Five and the quarterfinal round of the NCAA tournament with a concussion, and who didn’t know if he would return for Thursday’s game, made it look like he was never gone, stopping all 30 shots he faced.
But the decision to start Goehring was tough. Andy Kollar, who led the Sioux to wins in their last three games, made a good case for starting in his fourth straight.
After the game, though, there was no question.
“I guess we chose the right one,” Blais said.
A situation like this could be construed as a challenge for a goaltender coming off an injury. Thrusting Goehring, who was 0-2 in NCAA tournament games coming in, into a game of such magnitude is almost like putting a pitcher into Game 7 of the World Series on two days’ rest.
Goehring, who found out at 9 a.m. Thursday that he would lead North Dakota onto the ice five hours later, played up to the challenge by putting together a solid performance despite Maine’s intentions toward crashing the net.
“I was just trying to keep my focus,” Goehring said. “This is too much fun right now to get worried about stuff like that.”
Goehring and the Sioux were able to kill off two Maine five-on-three chances, the second helped by a penalty to Maine’s Brandon Walsh that negated part of the power play.
“There were a few scrambles right away on the power play where I don’t know how the puck ended up underneath,” Goehring said. “I’m just thankful that it did.”
Luck aside, Goehring had to work for his career-high eighth shutout of the season. He showed quick reflexes on a handful of occasions, denying Maine chances from the slot and clearing out rebounds.
The Black Bears, who said they were aiming high on the goaltender and subsequently missed the net occasionally, were turned away time and again.
“Karl, if he can see it, he’ll stop it,” said North Dakota’s Bryan Lundbohm, who scored the Sioux’s first goal of the game.
Goehring, who improved to 18-6-4 this season, had to endure a tough two weeks of waiting. Waiting to get his next chance.
He suffered a concussion in practice the week before the Final Five and was sidelined for more than a week with headaches.
On a day when the rest of the Sioux took a break from practice this week, Goehring was given permission to take to the ice with the puck-shooting machine to get back in game shape.
It apparently worked.
“I just got prepared the last two weeks the best way I knew how — by working hard,” Goehring said. “I just stuck to my game and fortunately I got an opportunity to play.”
Now, he’ll play for the national championship on Saturday. Not bad for a 5-foot-7, 160-pound kid who’s been told he’s too small to play goaltender for a major college.
“I’ve heard that all my life and it’s been a big motivation for me,” Goehring said. “I’ve kind of used those comments to motivate me to work harder.”