Miami’s Two-Headed Goalie Monster

The 2013-14 season is just about upon us, and we’re headed for another year of the two-headed monster in net. I want to preface what you’re about to read with a disclaimer that in no way do I think that either goalie that Miami currently has under scholarship is not good enough to be in a nubmer 1 goaltender position. But there is certainly a large part of me that would like to see either or both of these guys get their full-on shot at the #1 goalie spot for the Miami RedHawks.

In the last several years, Head Coach Enrico Blasi has employed the 2-goalie rotation. One of the two stellar goalies plays on Friday night, and the second will play on Saturday. Currently, that rotation is composed of Ryan McKay and Jay Williams. But what if things were different in Oxford? What if Enrico Blasi goes with an established top guy and has a trusted backup? We explore the topic as we prepare for the season that starts tonight.

The start of a trend

Brandon Crawford-West left school early, putting Miami in a situation to start the two-headed monster.

Brandon Crawford-West left school early, putting Miami in a situation to start the two-headed monster.

During the 2004-05 campaign, then-sophomore Brandon Crawford-West was the last clear-cut Number 1 goalie for the RedHawks. He played in 32 games, had a save % of .917 and allowed a fairly stingy 2.48 GAA for a team that went 15-18-5. It would be the last time Miami didn’t make the NCAA tournament before starting their current streak of 8 tournament appearances in a row. Crawford-West knew that Charlie Effinger was waiting in the wings, having posted a 4-2-0 record in 6 starts with 3 additional relief appearances. Crawford-West would then leave Miami after that sophomore campaign, and according to hockeydb.com, has not played any type of major hockey since.

During the offseason, Blasi would recruit and bring 6’2″ Jeff Zatkoff in to play between the pipes as his backup goalie. Only it didn’t turn out that way. Zatkoff actually played 4 of the first 5 games in 2005-06 (including the season-opening exhibition against Windsor) and won 3 of those 4. It seemed like Zatkoff was poised to be the #1 goalie, but would end up splitting games with Effinger. Zatkoff went 14-5-1 in 20 games and Effinger went 12-4-3 in 19 games.

The two would rotate for the rest of their time in Oxford until Effinger graduated in 2008, at which time also Zatkoff left Miami. He left with 1 year of eligibility remaining, and headed to the professional ranks. On a side note, Zatkoff is likely to get his first NHL game action this weekend, as the Pittsburgh Penguins play back-to-back games for the first time this season.

Two’s Company

Connor Knapp was part of the two-headed monster for Miami's 2 Frozen Four appearances.

Connor Knapp was part of the two-headed monster for Miami’s 2 Frozen Four appearances.

Connor Knapp and Cody Reichard were the two-headed monster from the 2008-09 season through the 2011-12 season. Having used Zatkoff and Effinger on a rotating basis, Blasi made no qualms about his rotation strategy, and rotated these two for their entire 4 years. Williams and McKay have continued that trend once again, having played their freshman season as a quite-potent 1-2 punch in Oxford.

Along the way, Coach Blasi has maintained that whomever plays best in practice during the week will play on Friday night, and the Saturday goalie will be determined based on the Friday night performance. In addition, Blasi is frequently quoted as saying that the two goalies are always good friends and truly push each other to be better in practice. But how far can that get you?

The Importance of Having a Number 1

Cody Reichard was part of the two-headed monster with Connor Knapp. (flickr: 560XLS)

Cody Reichard was part of the two-headed monster with Connor Knapp. (flickr: 560XLS)

In the 2008-09 season, Cody Reichard got hot at the end of the season and became the top goalie. He played in all 4 tournament games including the National Championship game against Boston University. He allowed just four goals and made 65 saves during the NCAA Regional in Minneapolis and during 21 period stretch ending with the 2 regional games, only allowed 12 goals. With a vote of confidence earlier in the season and being named “the guy”, I wonder what happens differently late National Championship game. Jump into the 2009 season, and the roles were reversed. Reichard was benched late in the season in favor of Connor Knapp. I’m not saying Knapp definitely gets us past Boston College in the Frozen Four/National Semifinal instead of getting pulled for Reichard in the 2nd period. But who knows?

A quick tale of the tape to illustrate where I’m going:

Reichard’s career: 92 starts and 53 wins; Named CCHA Player of the Year and a first-team All-CCHA selection in 2009-10 going 15-5-2.
Knapp: 84 starts and 46 career wins; 2010-11 CCHA Best Goaltender Award finishing with a 15-8-0 record, including 12 wins in his final 16 starts, allowing a goal or less in 13 of his final 17 appearance.

Let’s say that Reichard gets half of Knapp’s starts and keeps the same 57.6 win percentage, that extrapolates to 77 career wins in 134 games. If Knapp gets half of Reichard’s? 130 starts and 71 wins. Staggering numbers while one is the main guy and another is the backup.

The Situation at Hand

Jay Williams was stellar last season before Ryan McKay caught fire. (Columbus Dispatch: Eamon Queeny)

Jay Williams was stellar last season before Ryan McKay caught fire. (Columbus Dispatch: Eamon Queeny)

Fast forward to 2012-13 when Ryan McKay and Jay Williams split time in net. Williams was 12-5-1 in 21 games and was 13-7-2 in 23 games. Jay Williams filled in for McKay at the start of the season while McKay was injured. Later, it was McKay who went on an unbelievable streak and ended up starting 13 of the last 15 games in net. Does that mean McKay will be the #1 guy come Friday night?

Don’t count on it.

I’m only one guy, and Enrico Blasi is one of the best coaches in the NCAA. He has a Spencer Penrose award for the best coach in all of Division 1 hockey, 8 straight and 9 total NCAA tournament appearances, 2 Frozen Fours, 2 CCHA Regular Season Championships, 1 CCHA Tournament Championship and 5 CCHA Coach of the Year awards. You can’t argue with his resume. I just think there’s an opportunity awaiting him this season when it comes to that two-headed monster in net. Here’s my plan for success this year, and into the future.

Ryan McKay stops a shot by Minnesota State's Matt Leitner in NCAA Regional action. (Toledo Blade: Andy Morrison)

Ryan McKay stops a shot by Minnesota State’s Matt Leitner in NCAA Regional action. (Toledo Blade: Andy Morrison)

Ryan McKay starts as the top guy and plays the majority of the big games, including against teams such as Ohio State (2 games this year), North Dakota (4), St. Cloud State (4), and Wisconsin (2). Williams – by no means what you could call a “backup goalie” – can play the lesser foes such as Canisius, UNO, WMU, and the like. This allows that number one guy to be established. Blasi isn’t the type to encourage anyone to leave Miami early, but let’s say McKay leads the NCAA in GAA and Save % again, the leaves school early for the pros. This creates an ideal situation, and here’s why.

Williams, now a sophomore, will have his time for the next 2 years as a Junior and Senior. At the same time, Blasi is forced to recruit and bring in a goaltender, who is Williams’ protege and backup for 2 years. Barring any other early departures or injuries, at the very least, this gives Miami a succession plan as far as goalies go.

The Truth of the Matter

Turn no further than the season-opening exhibition against Windsor last Saturday night, and you’ll have your answer to the question of “what’s Rico’s goalie plan?” The RedHawks won, with Jay WIlliams getting the start, and Ryan McKay relieving him halfway through the game. Both looked good, although 2 turnovers cost Miami 2 goals in 10 seconds in the third period against McKay. While it has yet to come up during Blasi’s weekly press conferences, I’m sure  you’ll hear the same refrain when asked this season.

The two-headed monster returns to action tonight as Miami takes on Ohio State in the regular season opener, and returns to Oxford on Saturday against the same Buckeyes.

Enjoy the games, and be sure to follow us on Twitter at @MiamiHockeyBlog for updates.

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Posted on October 11, 2013, in Enrico Blasi, Jay Williams, Ryan McKay and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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