Leading up to a pair of weekend games, Minot State University men's club hockey coach Wade Regier faces a dilemma most coaches only dream of having.
Regier must choose between goaltenders Wyatt Waselenchuk and Riley Hengen as to who gets the start in net for each game.
"It's very challenging," Regier said. "It's one of those things where it's the best problem to have. We have confidence in both goaltenders. It's deciding who has the hot hand. We try to use past experiences when making the decision, but it's really all about what have you done for us lately."
MDN file photo
Minot State University junior goaltender Wyatt Waselenchuk watches play from the net during a practice in September. Waselenchuk is 6-2 this season with a 1.87 goals against average and a .93 save percentage.
Waselenchuk, a junior, and Hengen, a sophomore, have split time all season for the fifth-ranked Beavers (12-4 overall). Regier said both goaltenders will continue to see equal time in net for the rest of the regular season, but only one will play at nationals in March.
Despite their competitive nature and their hopes of starting every game, Waselenchuk and Hengen have developed a strong friendship outside the sport.
"Off the ice we enjoy spending time together," Waselenchuk said, "whether it's getting supper or hanging out between classes."
Said Hengen: "We got along from day one when we met. We both understand what happens on the ice, but at the same time we're able to set that aside off the ice."
Both goaltenders describe themselves as butterfly-style goalies, guarding the lower portion of the net and blocking shots via the leg pads. They've had nearly identical statistics this season. Both are 6-2 and sports a .93 save percentage. The only difference is Waselenchuk's 1.87 goals against average compared to Hengen's 1.88 GAA.
"For us, we rely on our team being based on our defense and shutting down the other team," Regier said. "It allows our guys to be more aggressive. When your goaltenders are playing well it gives the team confidence."
The play of the goaltenders has given a spark to the offense. After back-to-back losses to Adrian College (Mich.) and Williston State College in late October, the Beavers have outscored their last five opponents 41-7. MSU split with fourth-ranked Ohio University last weekend, winning the latter game 7-1 behind Waselenchuk's 24 saves.
Waselenchuk said it gets a little easier when the offense is putting up big numbers.
"It comes from our players," he said. "Once you get a five or six-goal lead, the puck looks like a beach ball. Whether you're playing the No. 1-ranked team or the 40th, there's times where you're going to face few shots and there's times where you're going to face a lot of shots."
Both goaltenders have faced their share of adversity this season. Waselenchuk allowed six goals in a 6-3 loss at Adrian in an October start. It was the Beavers' first loss of the season. But Waselenchuk bounced back in his next start, stopping 27 of 29, shots although MSU lost to WSC. Since suffering back-to-back losses, Waselenchuk is 2-0 with a 0.50 GAA and a .982 save percentage.
Hengen had his toughest game of the season in the Beavers' second game against Adrian, allowing five goals in 27 minutes, four seconds before being pulled in favor of Waselenchuk. MSU lost the game 8-1. But Hengen, much like his counterpart, bounced back in his next start, blanking WSC 9-0. Hengen finished with 29 saves.
"Early on, Wyatt was clearly playing as our top goaltender, but Riley has played really well as of late," Regier said. "There have been times where they've been outstanding and there have been times where we've had to make some changes."
MSU hosts WSC (7-1) on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. to close out the 2012 portion of its schedule.