Eric Schierhorn, the two-time reigning Big Ten Goaltender of the Year, started the first 19 games for the Gophers men's hockey team this season. Then things got interesting in net for Minnesota.
Coach Don Lucia turned to backup Mat Robson against Ohio State on Dec. 9, and the Buckeyes promptly scored four goals on the new sophomore addition from Ontario in the Gophers' 4-1 loss.
Schierhorn returned to net the next game against Army, but he and Robson split the following two series, with Robson earning his first two wins. Schierhorn played in the next three games, losing the first two.
It's been all Robson since as the No. 8 Gophers (19-13-2) have won six of eight games heading into their final regular-season series against No. 18 Penn State (14-13-5) on Friday and Saturday in State College, Pa. The Gophers need one point this weekend to host a quarterfinal series of the Big Ten tournament March 2-4.
Robson was named one of the Big Ten's stars of the week after stopping 59 of 61 shots in a win and tie against Ohio State last weekend. He has earned that conference distinction three other times this season.
Sophomore Mat Robson has played in eight series for the #Gophers this season...he's earned Big Ten weekly honors following four of them because of saves like these. #PrideOnIce pic.twitter.com/U164EvTpRQ— Minnesota M Hockey (@GopherHockey) February 20, 2018
Besides four goal from then-No. 1 Notre Dame on Jan. 27, Robson has allowed two or fewer goals in the other five games in this stretch.
"He has certainly given us an opportunity every night," Lucia said Wednesday. "As you've seen, we haven't scored a ton of goals this year, but he's given us a chance to win some games, 2-1 or 1-nothing, and that is an important ingredient."
Robson, who played juniors for the Penticton Vees in the British Columbia Hockey League, knew he wasn't going to be handed the starting job when he came south.
"Sitting out the first half was a bit of a battle coming into school," he said. "But I knew it was going to happen, so I just had to keep my head up and come to work every day. I knew I would get my chance, and obviously I'm having fun doing it."
As the Gophers head into postseason play, Robson will be between the pipes, but Lucia sees a role for Schierhorn, too, and he reports no issues from Schierhorn, a junior, as he has taken a backseat.
"It's been good," Lucia said about the relationship between the two goalies. "Eric is a big-time team player. I told him I still think he's going to play a role here. He's got to work to be ready. With the way Mat is playing, he's going to be the one that is playing."
Robson has the experience of playing in three elimination games during the BCHL playoffs last season. He said he learned to stay even keeled during big games.
"There are going to be ebbs and flows and ups and downs, all that sort of stuff," Robson said. "Kind of just got to keep moving forward and marching through the playoffs and hopefully go on a run here."
Junior forward Brent Gates Jr. said the team has rallied behind Robson.
"He's playing solid," Gates said. "He hasn't had many mistakes, and when we've needed a big save, he has come up with one. It's been huge."