Here come the Huskies.
And, leading the way is senior goaltender Bobby Goepfert.
The Pittsburgh Penguins prospect has helped St. Cloud State move its way up the NCAA Division-I rankings all season. The Huskies (17-5-4) are ranked fourth in the nation.
“Our year is far from over, though. We have some of our toughest schedule still remaining,” Goepfert said. “You find out through some tough times what you really have. It’s how we dig ourselves out of that, but we have a lot of great guys.”
Goepfert, the Penguins’ 2002 sixth-round draft pick (169th overall), spearheads the Huskies’ defense. Once again, he ranks among the national goaltending leaders. He is eighth in the country in save percentage (.928), 11th in winning percentage (.667) with a 12-5-4 record and 11th in goals-against average (2.15).
“It may be a cliché, but I have never been a real big stat guy,” he said. “It’s always nice being ranked and getting notoriety, but it doesn’t really matter. I haven’t won a championship in a long time and I would trade all my accolades for a shot at a championship.
“Every day I step out on the ice, I don’t go in expecting shutouts. I expect to win and look for the time I can make that big save.”
St. Cloud State and Goepfert struggled early on this year. The team went 2-3-3 in its first eight games, but was close in all three of its losses.
“In the beginning of the season, my stats weren’t good and it was costing our team,” Goepfert said. “The frustrating part was that I felt good and I was playing well. It’s just I was allowing goals I have never seen before – weird hops. It was relentless. The first five games, some of these goals just left me in disbelief.
“For a while, I’d look around and say, ‘What am I doing?’ It was just one of those freak things.”
The slow start was a surprise for Goepfert and the Huskies. Goepfert finished last year ranked ninth in the NCAA in goals-against average (2.20, a school record) and 11th in save percentage (.924). He was an all-WCHA first-team selection and Inside College Hockey picked him as a third team All-American.
In addition, St. Cloud State gained a top-15 national ranking last year and caught fire in the WCHA playoffs. The Huskies upended Minnesota Duluth and highly-touted Minnesota to advance to the WCHA Final Five championship game, where they dropped a 5-3 decision to North Dakota.
“I think we knew we had a good team coming into the year,” Goepfert said. “The way it ended, one game out of the tourney – it left a bad taste in our mouths. We were chomping at the bit this summer. We have a really good mix of guys. The weird thing is that we don’t have a powerhouse like Minnesota or the extremely talented teams. I think we’re a good team that knows how to win. Throughout the last two years, we learned how to win.”
Indeed. The Huskies shook off that slow start with a 12-game winning streak. Overall, they are 15-2-1 after those first eight games.
“We have some skilled and talented guys. There might have been one or two blowout wins in that run, but most of them could have gone either way,” he said. “We were in a lot of different situations and that is what was great about that winning streak. It taught us how to win in those different situations.”
The 5-foot-10, 170-pound redshirt senior says his goaltending style is hard to describe.
“I don’t even know if I have a style. I am not really a technical guy,” said Goepfert, a native of Kings Park, NY. “I never really had constant coaching when I was growing up. I taught myself in the backyard. I went to camps, but no style really stuck. I don’t think I play sloppy where I’m flopping everywhere. I’m more of a reaction guy where I think I am quick.
“I was reading where Grant Fuhr says a lot of guys focus on how you make a save, but he says it’s not how you do it; it’s when you do it and the outcome. That’s the biggest thing. I just do what I can to help my team. I can make 40 saves and lose 2-1. I’d rather be the guy who wins 10-9 and makes the big save with a minute left.”
While Goepfert is focused on winning a national championship, he looks forward to continuing his career in Pittsburgh one day.
“I am really excited being a part of the organization. You can see how much talent they have on the team,” he said. “Just the potential that I might be on that team some day, it gets you excited and makes you think. There are so many great players on that team. I don’t want to say I walk with a swagger, but it’s pretty cool. Sometimes I stop and think about it. I am happy to be a part of the Penguins organization. It’s a nice feather in my cap.”
Goepfert already is familiar with one goalie in the Penguins organization – Marc-Andre Fleury. The two met at the 2003 World Junior Championships. Fleury’s Canada squad beat Goepfert’s U.S. squad, 3-2, but Goepfert stopped 39 of 42 shots and was named the player of the game. In addition, some say Goepfert was the best goalie in that tournament, which also included Thrashers goalie Kari Lehtonen.
“That was a while ago,” said Goepfert, who is 23. “I feel like I can play. I want to show everybody I can. It was nice to get that out to show some doubters. I believe I can play since I started playing hockey. I am just asking for a shot. The dream of every hockey player is to play in the NHL.
“I am just fortunate with how things have worked out for me so far in my career,” he continued. “I feel like I can touch it. Hopefully I get that shot soon.”