PHILADELPHIA — It might be easy for Bruins fans to forget about Zane Gothberg. The team drafted him in the sixth round four years ago, and he’s been playing way out in North Dakota while fellow goaltending prospects Malcolm Subban and Niklas Svedberg are just a short drive away in Providence.
On top of that, there wasn’t much hype around Gothberg when the B’s drafted him. Sure, he had been named the top senior goalie in Minnesota high school hockey, but that was high school, and it was the highest level he had played at when the Bruins decided to take a chance on him. What stood out most back then was that his name was Zane and he was from a town called Thief River Falls. He was considered a long-term project, and if he didn’t pan out, then no big deal — it was only a sixth-round pick.
Well, it’s now been four years, and it’s become apparent that Gothberg is panning out nicely. Two years ago, he was named a co-recipient of the United States Hockey League’s Goaltender of the Year Award while playing for the Fargo Force. This year, as a sophomore at North Dakota, he won the starting job by early December and has backstopped the team to the Frozen Four, where it will meet archrival Minnesota in Thursday’s national semifinals.
“Zane all year long has pushed to get better,” said North Dakota senior captain Dillon Simpson. “It’s been pretty amazing to have a goalie like that. He’s a passionate, competitive guy, and he pushes everyone around him to be better. I don’t think I’ve met a goalie that doesn’t like to get scored on as much as Zane. I think that’s just part of his attitude and dedication to hockey.”
Just as he had to in the USHL, Gothberg needed to earn his playing time at North Dakota. He was solid last year as a freshman, posting a .920 save percentage and 9-4-3 record, but then-junior Clarke Saunders made 10 more starts and was the No. 1 goalie for most of the season.
Gothberg and Saunders split time again to start this season, but Gothberg won sole possession of the job after two months of superior play. He only got better as the season went along, but then things hit a snag when he suffered a lower-body injury in mid-January that forced him to miss five games.
The 6-foot-2 netminder wasn’t going to let that derail his strong season, though. Gothberg came back on Feb. 15 and didn’t allow more than two goals in any of his next eight starts. He has posted an excellent .939 save percentage in 14 games since returning, culminating with a career night against Ferris State in the Midwest Regional final. In that game, Gothberg stopped 44 of the 45 shots he faced in a double-overtime victory that sent North Dakota to the Frozen Four.
Now he’s ready to battle Minnesota and try to win a national championship. And in the longer term, he’s ready to battle Subban, Svedberg and anyone else for a future with the Bruins. He’s had to fight for playing time before, and he isn’t worried about where anyone has him ranked compared to those two.
“No matter what, at any level you’ll be at, there will be competition in that specific position,” Gothberg said. “You just have to work your tail off and do your best and let the chips fall where they may. I’m looking forward to it maybe one day down the road.”
Even if the Bruins don’t have a spot for Gothberg when he’s ready to turn pro, good goalies always have value. Regardless of whether he ends up in Boston or in a trade, the B’s could be in line for a nice return on that sixth-rounder.