Strong In Net

Behind most every championship team is a championship goaltender, and the contenders in this year’s CCHA playoffs are no exception.

Alvaro Montoya, Brandon Crawford-West, Mike Betz, and Tuomas Tarkki are the names of the probable starting goaltenders in the semifinals of the CCHA Super Six Friday, all out to prove that they have the essential qualities a championship goaltender possesses.

Some of these ‘tenders are well known, while others have become a bit of a surprise to their fellow CCHA members.

First, let’s start with the surprises.

Tarkki, of Northern Michigan, is the CCHA’s best-kept secret of the season. After playing only 130:19 in the regular season, Tarkki became the starting goaltender for the ‘Cats when senior Craig Kowalski pulled his groin in the final series of the regular season against Ferris State.

Tarkki, a junior from Rauma, Finland, backstopped his team to a road upset of Alaska-Fairbanks, making 70 saves in two games. Then Tarkki held Michigan State to just one goal on 36 shots to give his team a berth in the semifinal game against the Wolverines.

“It’s unfortunate that Craig got hurt,” Tarkki said, “but that was the only way I could get ice time this season. I can’t say I was happy about that, but I’ve been preparing for that the whole year. I knew I had to step in and I had to be ready.”

“Personally, I think that Craig Kowalski is the best goaltender in the country,” coach Walt Kyle said. “Tuomas was behind him and didn’t get ice time because of that. That wasn’t indicative of what we thought of Tuomas. We felt we had a guy that could have been an All-American there and everyone on this team is feels very confident that Tuomas can play, win games, and be an outstanding goaltender in college hockey.”

Brandon Crawford-West of the Miami RedHawks is a surprise in the respect that he is a freshman facing all the shots. The San Diego, Calif., native started his first game on October 10 against Michigan, and then Miami coach Enrico Blasi alternated goaltenders for part of the season, then became the number one RedHawk netminder after the Alaska-Fairbanks series November 21 and 22.

The next two goaltenders need no introduction.

Mike Betz has been Ohio State’s starting netminder for the past three seasons, and is the lone starting senior in the Super Six. This is the third year in a row the Buckeyes have made the CCHA tourney, and the Buckeyes’ maturity in net is a factor they’re counting on to guide them to the championship game.

In the event that things aren’t going Betz’ way, Head Coach John Markell won’t hesitate to insert backup Dave Caruso into the net for a change of momentum, as he did in the CCHA quarterfinal against Notre Dame.

“[Caruso is] a little bit more of an aggressive goalie than Mike is, and that’s what we expect of him. You just do it to change momentum. We are very fortunate — we have two good goalies that can be put in there, and there’s not much change, and you just do it to change the rhythm of the game,” Markell said.

Finally is the sophomore Montoya, who guards the net for Michigan, the defending CCHA champion.

Montoya continually adds to his already impressive resume that already boasts the “Modern Miracle” as he backstopped the U.S. to the first World Junior Tournament gold medal the under-20 division had ever achieved.

Montoya’s fast glove and unbelievable stops have given his team the confidence to go anywhere — including past the Wildcats in the CCHA semifinals and into the championship game to defend their title.

If these goaltenders are on their games, the remaining CCHA games could be some of the best of the season.

The semifinal matchups are set as the No. 1 seed Wolverines will be playing the No. 4 Wildcats in the first game of the afternoon, while the No. 2 RedHawks will face off against the No. 3 Buckeyes in the second.