Last year it was North Dakota goaltender Cam Johnson who stepped up as a sophomore, posting a .936 save percentage during the Fighting Hawks’ 2016 Frozen Four championship run.
The year before, it was Providence’s Jon Gillies who provided the hot and steady hand in net that allowed the Friars to upset Hockey East rival Boston University in the final round.
Year after year, play between the pipes has been a major factor in who lifts the championship trophy in April. With the 2017 playoffs just two months away now, here are the top netminders who look to carry their teams the rest of the regular season and hopefully into April:
Jake Oettinger | Boston University
It’s been nine years since a freshman goalie has led his program to a national championship. That last happened in 2008 when John Muse was the final line of defense for Boston College.
If that drought comes to an end this year, it very well may be thanks to BU’s talented rookie Jake Oettinger.
The Minnesota native has held opponents to just 1.70 goals per game in 20 games of action during his debut season. Oettinger has won seven straight games (including six in Hockey East play) as the Terriers have climbed back up to No. 1 in the latest USCHO.com poll.
For the season, the freshman ranks fifth in the nation with a .938 save percentage and is tied for third with four shutouts to his name.
Oettinger is just heating up for the final stretch of the regular season, leading BU to back-to-back weekend sweeps against crosstown rival Boston College and Maine while not allowing more than a single goal per game the past two weeks.
Alex Sakellaropoulos | UnionWhile BU boasts youth in its crease, No. 5 Union will rely on experience in senior Alex Sakellaropoulos in its quest for a second title in four years.
Sakellaropoulos has had a handful of games where he was peppered with shots mercilessly, and he has more than held his own with eight outings with 30-plus saves. This heavy pressure was most apparent in a Dec. 3 road game at Quinnipiac where he finished with 52 saves in a 5-2 victory.
Union has topped five ranked teams so far this season, including most recently a 2-1 upset over No. 2 Harvard on Jan. 14 when Sakellaropoulos finished with 31 saves on 32 shots faced.
Union’s No. 4 scoring offense in the nation may be enough to justify the Dutchmen as legitimate threats in the playoffs, but Sakellaropoulos’ workload will be key in determining just how far Union can go.
Kyle Hayton | St. Lawrence
No goalie has faced as many shots — or has made as many saves — as SLU’s Kye Hayton.
The junior has seen 744 pucks come his way, and yet he’s still firmly placed in the top 10 in save percentage (.933).
Sure, with all those excess shots being fired into the crease, some more than usual will sneak in — he allowed a season-high six to Providence in October. But Hayton has led SLU to 12 of its 13 wins and a No. 16 ranking.
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Hayton is currently 13th in the nation in goals allowed per game (2.09), sixth in minutes played (1434.40) and astoundingly third in shutouts (four). He’s reached the 30-save plateau seven times and had a high mark of 43 against Penn State (currently ranked No. 4) on opening weekend.
Facing 31 shots a night certainly doesn’t make it easy on a goalie — especially come playoff time — but Hayton has the ability to keep the Saints in any game.
Tanner Jaillet | DenverTanner Jaillet picked up a wealth of playoff experience last year, guiding the Pioneers to the Frozen Four appearance before eventual national champion North Dakota dispatched of them in a 4-2 semifinal victory.
Jaillet certainly played well as a sophomore during that postseason run, allowing eight goals in three games, but he’s since risen to the next level in 2016-17.
The Alberta product is one of nine goalies to allow fewer than two goals per game (seventh at 1.91), has a .931 save percentage (11th best) and is tied for third with 14 wins as a starter.
Jaillet is coming off his best game of the season to this point, leading Denver to a 3-1 victory over St. Cloud State on Saturday night to the tune of 37 saves and one goal allowed.
It’s been a dozen years since Denver won its last national championship — the Pioneers clinched back-to-back titles in 2004 and 2005. Jaillet already led Denver back to the Frozen Four last season, but the final stage is next on the list.
Michael Bitzer | Bemidji StateMichael Bitzer is yet another workhorse in net who’s excelled as a dependable upperclassman. The junior has started 27 of 28 games and leads the nation with 16 victories.
Like Hayton, Bitzer also finds himself in the top 10 in shots faced — albeit 83 less than Hayton — but still ranks second in goals-allowed average (1.59).
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Bitzer hasn’t allowed more than one goal 16 times this season, including two shutouts. He hit a rough patch earlier this month with consecutive games allowing three and four goals but bounced back in impressive fashion with a 32-save, one-goal performance against Ferris State on Saturday.
Bemidji State came in at No. 20 in the latest poll released on Monday, so the Beavers still have some work to do over the next month to solidify a spot in the 16-team playoff bracket.
Cal Petersen | Notre Dame
This one goes final, a 3-0 Irish win!— Notre Dame Hockey (@NDHockey) January 22, 2017
Goals: Malmquist, Peeke & Evans
Petersen w/ 31 saves for his 5th shutout of the year! pic.twitter.com/PK9k6U1tSJ
Notre Dame struggled to open the season but has found its stride in Hockey East play, picking up seven wins in its last 10 outings. Much of this recent success stems from the play of dependable junior Cal Petersen.
Petersen has started every game for the Fighting Irish each of the past two years and is ranked second in minutes played this season behind Bitzer. He’s posting his lowest goals-allowed average of his three-year career at 1.97 and ranks 12th with a .926 save percentage.
During this stretch of success, Petersen has picked up a series split vs. then-No. 5 UMass-Lowell, a 3-2 win over then-No. 3 Boston College and consecutive shutouts over Alaska Anchorage. He added his fifth shutout of the season to his docket with a 31-save outing vs. UNH this past Saturday.
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The road gets tougher for Petersen and the No. 15 Irish as they look to continue their rise. Notre Dame has seven more games against ranked Hockey East foes still left before the conference tournament, including a two-game regular season finale against No. 1 BU on Feb. 24-25.
Petersen got just a small taste of playoff action last year, as Notre Dame was ousted in a 3-2 overtime defeat against Michigan in the first round. Petersen had 32 saves in that defeat.
With his numbers up this season, Notre Dame could be a scary draw for any team this March.