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Elite goalies get time to shine

By Loren Nelson, Editor, 07/27/11, 11:10AM CDT

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Fewer goaltenders will play in Elite League in effort to develop more high-level prospects


Alex Lyon of Lake of the Woods, a top goaltender in the Upper Midwest High School Elite Hockey League in 2010, has committed to play at Yale. Photo by Helen Nelson

There was a time in Minnesota when NHL-level goaltending prospects were seemingly as commonplace as pine trees.

Eveleth in the late 1920s and 1930s was the epicenter of Minnesota’s goaltending boom, producing NHLers Mike Karakas, Sam LoPresti and two-time Stanley Cup winner Frank Brimsek.

These days there are no Minnesotans regularly tending in goal in the NHL. Former Richfield star Damian Rholdes played 309 regular season games in an 11-year career that ended in 2002.

“We probably have less evolution of goaltenders in the state in regard to the NHL than any other position,” Upper Midwest High School Elite Hockey League director John Russo said. “That’s the way it has been for quite a long time.”

No Minnesotan has played more than a handful of games in the NHL since Rhodes' retirement.

“It’s an interesting conundrum for us,” Russo said. “We haven’t developed goaltenders as well as we would like in the whole state, in my opinion.

“And we’re part of the responsible party here, because we are developing some of the best goalies the state has.”

This fall the Elite League will rotate nine “community” goaltenders among its six Minnesota/North Dakota teams. By trimming the number of league goalies by three from the traditional 12, Elite League goaltenders coach Dave Rogalski said the state’s top netminders will play in 14 full games instead of seven full games as in previous seasons.

Elite League teams play 21 regular season games and three more in the playoffs. League play begins on Sept. 6.

“We’re being told the premier goalies in the state need more games for (college and NHL scouts) to track how they play for them to be more comfortable with them picking a goalie,” said Rogalski, the Elite League’s goaltending coach. “We’ve only had one collegiate goalie per year for the past few years.”

Last season Alex Lyon of Lake of the Woods was one of the Elite League’s dominant goaltenders, posting a 2.76 goals-against average and .930 save percentage. Lyon committed to play at NCAA Division I Yale in the spring after an outstanding senior season for the Bears.

In 2009-10, Zane Gothberg of Thief River Falls was an Elite League standout who had a strong senior season for the Prowlers. The sixth round (165th overall) draft pick of the Boston Bruins in 2010 accepted a scholarship offer to play at North Dakota. Gothberg will play a second season for the Fargo Force of the United States Hockey League this winter before joining the Fighting Sioux in 2011-12.

This fall Erikur Arnason of Greenway, Michael Bitzer of Moorhead, Blake Cates of Stillwater, Aaron Dingman of Wayzata, Anders Franke of Elk River, Nick Malvin of Blaine, Justin Quale of Benilde St. Margaret’s, Zach Thompson of Duluth Denfeld and Bryan Nies of Grand Forks Red River will be the nine goaltenders rotating among six teams.

“We will bring more parity in the league,” Rogalski said about the changes. “Goalies will have a chance to play for different defensemen. That will be a benefit to them if they would have been on a team that is not as strong.”

“I believe we have the talent. We just need to get the kids in front of the scouts.”

Upper Midwest High School Elite Hockey League

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Moorhead's Jack Stetz (21) throws his arms up as he and his teammates celebrated the win. ] ANTHONY SOUFFLE • anthony.souffle@startribune.com