It’s a common trend at this point in the season for teams to split their goaltenders’ playing time.
Seven out of the 10 teams in the WCHA used two goalies over Week 5 of the season while coaches still try to find their No. 1 netminder. If Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves intends to make a call on a top goalie, he might need a time extension.
“It’s Coach (Eaves’) decision,” Wisconsin goalies coach Jeff Sanger said Wednesday. “They’ve both been playing well and they both deserve to play. It’s one of those hard but good decisions you have. They’re both mature and have developed into some top-notch goalies around the nation.”
Senior Scott Gudmandson is coming off a decent junior season with the Badgers and is off to a stellar beginning to the 2010-11 season. He made 24 saves in a 6-0 shutout at Minnesota out Friday to improve his record to 3-2-1 but his statistics are more impressive (1.98 GAA, .929 SV%). Throw the backup in, and the Badgers don’t skip a beat.
Brett Bennett, also a senior, saw limited time in 14 games last season after transferring from Boston University after the 2007-08 season and spent a season with the USHL’s Indiana Ice. His goals against average (1.47) and saves percentage (.940) each rank in the top four nationally through four games.
“Bret had shoulder problems and had surgery this summer,” Sanger said. “He came in in good shape and he’s worked hard in practice. There’s not a huge difference overall in his play. It’s more of him getting back to the college game and wanting it.”
In his first three starts this season against Holy Cross, Alabama-Huntsville and Michigan Tech, Bennett saw his first true test of the season against the Gophers, Saturday night. The 5th-round draft pick by Phoenix got off to a shaky start, giving up two early goals to put Wisconsin in a 2-0 hole.
But the Badgers got a goal back before the period was over, thanks to a long outlet pass from Bennett to Mark Zengerle who found Justin Schultz for the goal. It was Bennett’s second assist of the season. He gave up a goal late in the second period but the Badgers came back to tie Minnesota 3-3.
“Obviously I want to play every game but it’s good to have that healthy competition,” Gudmandson said. “It brings the best out in both of his. We both want to be starting goalies.”
The next three weeks will reveal just how good the Wisconsin goaltending is or how much the Badgers benefited from a favorable schedule to this point (if you don’t count the season opener against BU). Wisconsin faces North Dakota (3.30 goals per game, 15th nationally), Minnesota-Duluth (3.90 GPG, 7th) and Michigan (3.30 GPG, 15th) in its next five games, all at the Kohl Center.
Gudmandson said the Badgers’ goaltending depends a lot on the defense in front of him and Bennett. The Badgers rank fifth nationally in goals against (1.80 per game).
“We knew coming into the year we had to be a more defensive, hard-nosed team,” Gudmandson said. “Last year we had one of the best D corps in the nation and this year we reloaded. Guys like Jake Gardiner, John Ramage and Justin Schultz have really stepped into the role and logged a lot of minutes.”
After Bennett allowed two goals on 12 shots in the first period Saturday, the Badgers defense held Minnesota to 13 shots the rest of the way and Bennett stopped 12.
If Gudmandson/Bennett becomes a dilemma, let it play out, let the two challenge each other because Wisconsin has the defensive corps to bail out any goaltender and so far, it seems to be working.