ST PAUL - Unsurprisingly, Colorado College’s empty cage has the attention of the league.
Honorable mention all-NCHC goaltender Alex Leclerc, who led the league in saves last season by a wide margin, opted to forgo his last year of eligibility and turn pro. He signed with the Dundee Stars of the UK's Elite Ice Hockey League.
“Alex, probably more than anyone in our league, has been a thorn in our side and has been real hard for us to score on,” Denver coach David Carle said. “I’d be lying to you if I said I was sad to see him go.”
One of the biggest questions facing the Tigers is who will step up and carry that load, and what kind of load it will be. The Tigers last season, at their most successful, clamped down defensively and stretched narrow leads, with 24 goals in their 17 wins.
Leclerc was heavily relied upon down the stretch as Colorado College won its first NCHC playoff series. His 56-save, one-goal-allowed series effort that earned league goaltender of the week honors was pivotal in taking the Gold Pan Trophy back from Denver.
“He played lights-out last year and he was a big part of the team,” Denver captain Ian Mitchell said.
Carle said he doesn’t expect it to be any easier, no matter who is in net the next time the teams meet.
The replacement frontrunners come to CC at different points in their college careers - Ryan Ruck as a graduate transfer from Northeastern, Matt Vernon as a true freshman. Both have earned praise, and they’ll likely share the net in an exhibition game against Trinity Western on Oct. 5.
Ruck posted 38 wins in his combined first two collegiate seasons, but saw only six games in each of his final two with the Huskies. Vernon has more recent starter experience and was named the North American Hockey League’s Goaltender of the Year, but this is a bigger, faster game.
No matter what happens, CC co-captain Grant Cruikshank said it’s time for the Tigers, picked sixth in the NCHC’s preseason poll, to “turn the page.”
“I think our goaltending situation is going to be a battle for who wants it,” he said. “They’re both really good goalies. I think that’s healthy to have during the week.
“It’s going to be great competition.”