For North Dakota’s Goehring, it’s back to school — this time as teacher

Fighting Sioux fans have long argued that one piece missing from North Dakota’s team is a goaltending coach.

North Dakota goaltender coach Karl Goehring (Patrick C. Miller)
Former North Dakota national championship goaltender Karl Goehring returned to Grand Forks to work at a hockey academy (photo: Patrick C. Miller).

With former Sioux goaltending great Karl Goehring coaching North Dakota’s netminders, sophomore Aaron Dell emerging as one of the nation’s top collegiate goalies and the team poised for a run at an eighth NCAA championship, the fans could be on to something. Goehring wouldn’t disagree with them.

“I’m certainly very biased, but I think every team should have a goalie coach,” he said. “There are certain things that only as a goaltender you can have an appreciation for. Taking nothing away from the guys who play other positions, how can they understand certain scenarios for a goaltender without having gone through it?”

After graduating from North Dakota in 2001, Goehring signed a contract with the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets. He spent most of his eight years in professional hockey playing in the AHL and was a goalie coach for a season with the league’s Syracuse Crunch. He returned to Grand Forks last summer to serve as director of the Hockey Academy, a development program for players of all ages operated by Ralph Engelstad Arena.

That also gave him the opportunity to serve as a volunteer coach for North Dakota. When not running the academy, he works several times a week with Dell and the other Sioux goalies, Brad Eidsness and Tate Marris.

“It’s been so much fun working with such a good coaching staff and learning from them,” Goehring said. “These players, too, I can’t comment enough on their character and the goalies I’ve had a chance to work with. It’s been a blast.”

Dell’s .924 save percentage is the best of any goalie playing in the Frozen Four in St. Paul, Minn., next week. He leads the nation with a .816 winning percentage and a 1.81 goals-against average. Ironically, his impressive goals against average was exactly the same his rookie season when he was 1-3-1 with an .897 save percentage.

However, Goehring deflects credit for Dell’s improvement and considers his impressive stats this season a reflection of how well the team is playing in front of him.

“Aaron’s done a great job — regardless of the situation — just coming to play his game and focusing on what he needs to focus on,” he said. “All the credit really goes to him in terms of his preparation and what he’s done up to this point.”

From 1997 to 2001, when Goehring wore the kelly green and white for North Dakota, he was a two-time All-American goalie whose name appears at or near the top of nearly every goaltending category in the school’s record book. He was also the goalie for the last Sioux team to win a national championship in 2000.

Sioux coach Dave Hakstol said that having Goehring serve as a volunteer goalie coach has been an integral part of the team’s success this season.

“The importance of it is almost immeasurable to have a coach for the goaltender position,” he said. “He’s not just a guy who was very successful at the position, but he also has the demeanor to be an excellent communicator and teacher. It’s been very important for our goaltenders and for our team.”

North Dakota goalie Brad Eidsness pounces on a loose puck during the second period. Looking on is Jason Gregoire. No. 8 North Dakota used a three-goal third period to beat No. 4 UNO 6-5 Friday night at Qwest Center Omaha. (Photo by Michelle Bishop) (Michelle Bishop)
Brad Eidsness started the season in the No. 1 role for North Dakota, but he struggled early (photo: Michelle Bishop).

At the start of the season, Eidsness, a junior, appeared poised to be North Dakota’s top goalie. He had a 48-22-8 record over his first two seasons, helping the Sioux win the WCHA championship in 2009 and the league’s Final Five tournament championship in 2010. He made the conference’s all-rookie team as a freshman and the All-WCHA second team as sophomore.

When Eidsness struggled early this season, Dell stepped in and steadily improved as the season progressed. His 30-win season eclipsed the school record set by former Sioux goalie and NHL great Ed Belfour in 1987 on a national championship team.

A native of Airdrie, Alberta, Dell spent two seasons with the Calgary Canucks of the Alberta Junior Hockey League before joining North Dakota last season. Goehring wasn’t surprised when Dell stepped into the role of starting goaltender.

“I think the ability has always been there,” he said. “It’s a transition when you’re coming from juniors to college. It’s not only a step up play-wise, but lifestyle-wise, too. There are a lot of adjustments to go through. I think getting through that first year really helped Aaron mature a lot. Getting an opportunity to play some more games helped him get into a little bit of a rhythm and get some confidence going, too.”

While Goehring is hesitant to classify Dell’s playing style, he said one factor that makes him so difficult to beat is his positioning.

“One of the fundamentals I try to teach my guys is good positioning,” he explained. “I think Aaron does an excellent job at it. If you can keep things simple and get yourself in good position, it just makes the game a lot easier.”

Dell developed his own technique to maintain good positioning, which often enables him to stop shots he doesn’t see. It may not be a spectacular style, but it is effective.

“When I was younger, I was pretty small for most of my career,” he said. “I worked on positioning a lot since I was about 15. I try to draw an imaginary straight line from my chest to the puck and try to stay as big in front of it as I can.”

Dell is tied for the nation’s lead with six shutouts. If not for two-tenths of a second at the end of the first period in last Sunday’s NCAA Midwest Regional final against Denver, he’d own that statistical category, too. But the Pioneers’ Jason Zucker, the WCHA’s rookie of the year, scored Denver’s lone goal by deflecting the puck in off Dell’s skate just before time expired to make it a 1-1 game.

“It was such a weird play,” Dell recalled. “The first shot went off my guy and by the net. [Zucker] just happened to be coming around at that time and one-timed it at me. There wasn’t a whole lot I could do about it. Guys like that always find a way to get goals.”

Many wondered how giving up a late goal would affect Dell and the Sioux. The answer came in the next two periods, when the Sioux scored five straight goals and gave up none in a 6-1 victory that sent North Dakota to the Frozen Four. For giving up just one goal in two games, Dell was named most outstanding player of the regional tournament in Green Bay, Wis.

Aaron Dell North Dakota (Tim Brule)
Aaron Dell's .924 save percentage is the best of any goalie in the Frozen Four field (photo: Tim Brule).

That demonstrated another strength Dell has displayed throughout the season: an ability to remain unflappable in any situation.

“Regardless of what’s happening around him, Aaron keeps a focus and a clear mind on what he needs to do,” Goehring said. “I’m always impressed when other teams are charging the net, which they’ll do to get a goalie off his a game. Aaron will just coolly skate to a corner and regroup himself, where a lot of times you’ll see other goalies throwing blockers and getting into the mix. He just takes himself out of the situation and gets back to where he needs to be mentally.”

Dell says that his in-game concentration was something he tried to improve during the offseason.

“A big part of what I worked on over the summer was making sure that I stayed focused at all times, just not let there be any lapses in what I’m thinking about,” he said. “Each shift, I’ve got to treat it like it’s the last shift of the game and we’re tied. With playing top teams now, there’s no room for error. It’s going to come down to who makes the fewest mistakes at the end.”

To relax in his spare time, Dell plays the guitar.

“I’ve been playing since I was about 11 years old,” he said. “I like a little bit of everything. I play a little bit of classic rock and a little bit of country here and there, and some newer heavy metal stuff.”

On the team’s “Brad Miller Time” YouTube video feature regularly hosted by Sioux players Mario Lamoureux and Brett Hextall, Dell’s cluttered bedroom was featured on a “hoarders” episode.

“It was actually the day my girlfriend got back from winter break,” he said. “We just dropped off all her stuff in my room and went out to eat. They came during the time that I was gone. It wasn’t great to start with, but it looked a lot worse than it normally was.”

While some might not appreciate having their less-than-tidy personal living space broadcast to the world, Dell took it in stride. “It’s all in good fun,” he smiled.

Heading into the Frozen Four, Goehring will try to draw on his experience to help North Dakota’s goalie. Not only does he know what it’s like to win a national championship, but he also knows what it’s like to be on the losing end. In 2001, Boston College defeated the Sioux 3-2 in overtime to claim the NCAA trophy.

“More than anything, I try to be an ear for the guys to talk to about things and bounce ideas off of,” Goehring said. “Just to have somebody there that they can relate to and who knows what they’re going through and work with them through the process. I know from my own experience that having a goalie coach helped me tremendously in the professional ranks.”

Although the season has not gone as he’d planned, Eidsness believes the addition of Goehring to the coaching staff has been a plus.

“Certainly one of the strengths of the program here is guys are proud of where they’ve come from and they want to come back,” he said. “It’s been nice having Karl here and we’ve done really well as a team this year. So I think it’s helped in a lot of respects.”


    • Yeah, like that’s going to happen.
      The Sioux will dine on roasted wolverine meat on Thursday night. They say it tastes like chicken.

    • I know it has no bearing whatsoever on the game next week, but I live in Ann Arbor and I thoroughly enjoyed watching the Sioux and Wolverines the last time they played. There’s nothing better than spotting a team a 2-0 lead only to flip the switch and put a touchdown on them. The 2 point conversion was a fitting touch as well. I expect the game to be close for a period and a half, maybe 2. After that, the Sioux will take control of the game via the 4 lines they’ll be running and Michigan’s top 2 lines will be gassed. 5-3 Sioux.

      • Good comments all week. Hope to see a great game between Sioux and Wolverines . Good luck to the Sioux, but I am hoping for a different outcome than your prediction. My comments yesterday about the lack of hockey knowledge on this site did not appy to you. With all that being said GO BLUE I think you will be impressed with Hagelin and company.

  1. We adored Karl here in Syracuse. It’s so good to hear he’s doing well!

    Just a fact check–Karl was an assistant coach with the Crunch for one season, not two.

  2. I am as big of Sioux fan as anyone. I have been to a number of games this year and will be at the FF. I played college and have self-anointed myself as a great judge of college hockey talent…..;) With this being said I am going to be totally honest….something that only a few people seem to do on here from what I see. I think Dell is a great goalie. He is certainly above average, no doubt about it. However, from the very first game I saw this year I was not overliy impressed with Dell. Now, please understand I have been comparing Dell to previous great goalies who played at UND and other goalies in the WCHA this year. For example, if I had to choose between DU’s Brittain and Dell I would have to go with Brittain. But, Brittian is, IMO, one of the best goalies in the country…if not thee. I have just seen too many easy goals go in this year to feel completely comfortable with Dell. I have seen him play some fantastic games as well so I am not saying he is your average goalie. But, when compared to the best in the country I cannot say he is the best. He plays great and he is surely good enough to bring home #8 for the Sioux. He seems like a great kid and the article was awesome.

    Lastly, I have a question for anyone on here….no matter your allegiance. How on earth can anyone HONESTLY think Matt Frattin is not the best player in the country? If everybody puts their favorites aside and simply looks at the top players I cannot see how it is even possible to consider anyone else. Besides, Frattin plays at both ends of the ice and he is also a physical force who can hand out some pretty impressive punishment. I am baffled how anyone could argue there is a better player than Frattin. Oh, don’t give me the character/off ice business. If anything I think Frattin’s actions show incredible strength of character so this argument is totally immaterial. Ok, can’t wait to be in the throngs of Sioux fans this coming Thursday. So psyched I am in a suite with a case of cold brews…..come by and I will give you one….:)

    • Very well said. As a goalie, I can agree! I believe I said at the beginning of the year ‘Dell can win games but Eids can win championships”. I must however, take that back. I have total faith in our tender and wish our team the best. bty what sweet our u in?

  3. Suture 1. Dell doesn’t have to be the best goalie in the nation. He is how ever the best goalie the Sioux have had in 10 years in my opinion. I have said it all year long, he is positionally sound and is making the stops he is supposed to make, some he probably should not. If you or anybody want to blame Dell for the one that squeaked by at regionals, rewind 14 seconds and blame the team for the turnover on the blue line. Had the puck been put in deep there would not have been a lucky bounce in the Sioux end. I unfortunately called that goal when the Sioux failed to get the puck in deep. Yes Dell made mistakes during the season as did every goalie in the country. He has become better as the season went on. This is the first goalie I have confidence in since Karl left. Not that that means anything, but I don’t expect the melt down at the end of the season that we have seen for the past seven years.

    • Hey Anon, I do agree with the points you brought up. Especially the comment about Dell’s improvement over the year. I think Dell is a much better goalie at this point in time compared to some of the earlier games this year (when I saw him play live the most). I also agree, to some degree anyway, that he does not necessarily have to be the best goalie in the country. The way the Sioux are playing I think Dell has not been tested for 60 minutes very often. For example, when DU played the Sioux (in either of the last two games..take your pick) I think Brittain was tested for the entire game…and OT. Contrarily, because of the great team in front of Dell I do not believe he was faced with the same degree of pressure as Brittain. Did Dell come up with some HUGE saves in both games? Absolutely, he was awesome! Anon, keep in mind that I am putting Dell up against the best goalies in the country and the best goalies historically at UND. In other words, I think Dell is a fantastic goalie….I just don’t know if he is the best goalie in the entire country. Anyway, I suppose it really does not matter. I was just making a point there have been times, probably early on as you mentioned, where Dell has made me a little nervous. I am a HUGE Sioux fan and am behind Dell 100% so please do not misunderstand my commentary about Dell….I was probably a dumb *** for even bringing it bad….:( BTW, Geaux Sioux, I can’t give you a seat in our suite…..$1,000 a piece is a little steep to give away….but you can come by for a cold one. I am in the corner suite…..right hand side—upper corner as you look at the Xcel arena map. If you can find me I will give you a cold Bass…or two…:) Just look for the guy wearing a black..or white…or green Sioux jersey….:) OK, one question…..does anyone else feel this quiet level of confidence with the Sioux? Seriously, is there anyone else who feels like there is virtually nobody who could beat this Sioux team… this point in time? I don’t know if I am being cocky or if there are others who feel like I do….that there is simply no way the Sioux will lose to anyone….be that Michigan or any other team at the FF? Let me know, I am very curious….:)

      • Yes, you’re being cocky. I understand you feeling that way because of how good the team is that you support, but it’s still anybody’s game. I hope the Sioux players are as over-confident as you are and overlook Michigan.

        Should be a barn burner. Good luck in the game. Wish I could be there.

        • Agreed.

          If the refs call a tight game – and you know Michigan is going to try to draw penalties – and keep the Sioux off balance that will be their downfall.

          Word has it Red had his guys over at the Theater Dept last week…..”how to fake a contact to the head and draw a five minute and game DQ”

      • You made good points and I hope I didn’t come off as an ars with my reply. Dell is playing behind the best d corp in the country and the best team in the country, in my opinion. What I like about him is that he keeps the game simple and doesn’t flop around and make saves look huge. He has given this team a chance to win on a nightly basis. You are right he has not been tested for 60 minutes very often but any goalie will tell you those are the hardest games to play in. When he was tested I personally would give him a passing grade. Like I said I think Dell is the best goalie I have seen play for the Sioux since Karl G. left. Other goalies may have been better but Dell gives this team a better chance to win. Britian (sp) is a stud no doubt. I asked the question before, where does DU get all these great goalies. They have been the demise to the Sioux several times in recent years.

        I agree with you on Frattin. He is absolutely the best player in college hockey.

        As for the team, I used to get nervous this time of year when I watched them. Not this year. I know in a one and done tourney anything can happen and if this was a three game series nobody would touch the Sioux. This year feels different. I don’t get nervous for the games and I expect them to win.

        Thanks for the directions to your suite. Please get some Guiness to mix with the Bass and I will find you for one during the first intermission of the championship game. Ha Ha. I will be wearing a Sioux sweater, Sioux jacket and Sioux hat. If I can find the person who is making the sweet t shirts with the espn and Sioux stuff I may be wearing one of those as well. Go Sioux

        • Anon, I made the point I did….about this quiet level of confidence…because I used to feel exactly like you. Over the past several years I would feel so anxious about our chances getting to the championship game. I had a hard time watching the first period of the DU game in G. Bay. But, if you take into consideration the past 4 games the Sioux have played there is just something different this year. I know our boys could lose to Michigan…I am not making predictions. I was just wondering if anyone else felt this….almost like a force-of-nature feeling with the Sioux this year….or at least in the past 6-8 games? I was lucky enough to be at UND when the Hrkc Circus played (BTW, I did not realize Bobby Joyce has more goals than Hrkc) and if anyone else on here got to see these games live you all know the idea of losing was really an afterthought. Man, just thinking about that season makes me smile…..the poor Gophers didn’t know what hit them…lol. Well, this Sioux team brings back memories of the ’86-’87 team. There is less anxiety about the outcome and more expectation to see which Sioux player is going to make a spectacular goal, a crunching hit or maybe both. Anyway, I CANNOT WAIT to get to the FF this week! It is going to be SO AWESOME!! I hope that arena is 90% green, black and white!! It’s going to be tough to get through work this week…lol. See you all there….:)

  4. Must be fiction. A Sioux player (former) in trouble for discipline? No way Oshie learned that at UND. Come on say it. Typical Sioux. Oshie got to hone his practice while in college

  5. Parents do not leave your kids with Hakstol. he has a ton of power and your kid will be dependent on him for ice time and a recommendation to get scouts bought in that your kid has professional potential. No regard for his players as his track record suggests and his best moment to date is getting suspended for flipping the bird

  6. Dell is the Chris Osgood of college hockey — average at best on a very good team. He is no better than the occasion needs him to be but if you put him on RPI, it would have been 17-0 North Dakota

  7. TJ Oshie. Nice job. Way to set a role model for the current Sioux, getting suspended. Did he go Kristo or something?

  8. My son is a young goalie. We have been able to work with Karl at summer camps and skills nights and his instruction is awesome. We are very fortunate to have Karl in the Grand Forks area.

  9. A few things… I am a Sioux fan, so take it for what it’s worth, but I’ve probably watched as much college hockey as anyone in the country this year, so I feel my opinions are fairly valid here…

    First of all, I said this a long time ago, that Dell was the best positional goalie I had seen in the Sioux uni in a long long time. I think Karl G’s influence is fairly obvious, although Dell is not by any means an extraordinary goalie at this point. Not to take anything away from Dell’s accomplishments, but he plays behind the best defense (and team) in college hockey. This has to helped those stats a little bit. Either way he is good enough to lead them to number 8. That’s the only stat that matters in my book.

    Second – there is NO ONE who comes close to Frattin this season. Not even close. If he doesn’t win the Hobey in a landslide there is something very wrong with the voting or selection process. He is absolutely dominant every weekend and this streak of his during the past 15 games should solidify the notion that he not only plays his butt off on every shift, but he plays the hardest and the best when the games count the most. He reminds me a lot of Oshie, only better…

    Third, Suture1, I might get some heat for this, but I kind of agree with you. When I first looked at the bracket I thought that Denver would be the toughest test for them. Then they clobbered them 6 – 1. This team seems to be getting better and better with every game, and I still feel that Denver was a better (although a very young) hockey team than Michigan or Duluth. DU is very talented and will be a force over the next season or two. UND is playing a level and style of hockey right now that should give those other three teams nightmares.

    All that said, I’ve been wrong before, and there’s a reason they play the games! I’m looking forward to seeing some great hockey next weekend.


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