On Oct. 7, freshman Billy Sauer started in net for Michigan’s 3-1 season-opening win over Quinnipiac.
Sauer also stood between the pipes when the Wolverines closed the season with a 4-3 overtime loss to Ferris State on Feb. 25.
But despite opening and closing the regular season as the starting goalie, Sauer’s hold on the job has been anything but certain.
The Ferris State finale became just another chapter in the ongoing saga that is Michigan goaltending.
Through two periods, Sauer shut out the Bulldogs, and the Wolverines looked to be cruising to an easy Senior Night victory.
But the third period arrived, and a completely different Michigan team hit the ice. It didn’t produce much offense, the defense faltered and the goaltending vanished. The Wolverines gave up four goals in the third period and overtime.
Senior goalie Noah Ruden’s story is similar. When he started three weeks ago against Nebraska-Omaha, he played spectacular at times, leading Michigan to a two-goal lead, but he also gave up soft goals en route to a 4-4 tie.
“I don’t think there’s a big difference between either of the goalies,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “Noah came off a sub-par weekend in Omaha — Billy was having a good weekend (against Ferris State) and dropped the ball in the third period.”
Throughout the season, Sauer and Ruden have been interchangeable parts in net. Neither has played well enough to compel Berenson to name a permanent starter. Sauer has started 21 games, and Ruden has started 15.
Sauer has a 3.04 goals against average. Ruden was not much better (2.83 GAA). Sauer had the more impressive record, going 11-6-4. But these numbers are tainted — a majority of those wins came in the beginning of the season when Michigan faced weaker competition and had nine home games.
Berenson was been adamant in insisting throughout the season that he has two No. 1 goalies on his roster. So whom will the Wolverines start next Friday when they face off against Ferris State in the CCHA quarterfinals?
One of them will play, and, hopefully, the one who plays will give us a chance,” Berenson said.
This is the first time in recent memory where the team has not had a clear No. 1 starter heading into the postseason. The past three seasons, Al Montoya was firmly entrenched in net. Before that, Dan Blackburn was the undisputed starter.
Coming into the season, the coaching staff knew Sauer was an unfinished product. They brought the freshman in early because Montoya turned pro prior to this season. Sauer was not even 18 years old for the first half of the 2005-06 campaign.
The coaches also had no idea what to expect from the returning Ruden. Having been a backup to Montoya his entire Michigan career, his only significant action came in the Great Lakes Invitational, when Montoya was playing in the World Junior Championships.
“I didn’t have a road map for our goalies this season,” Berenson said. “I wanted Sauer to have an opportunity to get experience. I figured by the halfway point that we’d have an idea if he could play every night or he couldn’t. We’d also have an idea of how competitive Noah would be in terms of a starting goalie — we’ve seen goods and bads from both of them.”
Making a decision in goal is crucial for Michigan because a loss in its best-of-three series against Ferris State this weekend will likely signal the final chapter of the Wolverines’ season.