Telling Mat Robson and Eric Schierhorn apart on the ice isn’t too hard.
Schierhorn likely will be making acrobatic saves, showcasing his athleticism. Robson could be lounging with one arm leaning on the crossbar, the epitome of nonchalance.
“One is as cool as a cucumber as they get,” Gophers coach Bob Motzko said of Robson. “And the other guy is just a competitor. He’s got fire coming out of him. There’s a great balance that they have between each other.”
Such a good partnership, in fact, that Motzko hasn’t felt a need to name a starting goaltender for his first season with the team, saying he doesn’t need “a strategy when there’s a competition going on,” and his team has “a great problem” to solve.
“All I’m going to say, and this isn’t dodging a question that people want to ask, when I got here we had two goalies, and now we’ve played both goalies and both have been outstanding. So we’ve got two goalies, and we’ll make decisions as we move forward.
“There’s a great respect between those two. You can feel it, too. And they’re going to push each other to be better.”
The two seniors not only have become used to this uncertain situation of who is playing game-to-game, but they’ve embraced it throughout the past year. Robson joined the Gophers only last season and wasn’t eligible to play until halfway through it because an NCAA sanction required him to sit out a year and a half when he decided to first join Clarkson after signing with an Ontario Hockey League team.
Schierhorn said former coach Don Lucia told him the summer before last season that once Robson came in, the pair would split starting duties. While Schierhorn played the first half of the season while Robson had to sit, Robson started a majority of games toward the end of the season. This season, Robson has played all three of the Gophers’ official games so far, with Schierhorn starting one exhibition, but Robson said Motzko still doesn’t inform the two who will play until the day before the game.
“Eric was two-time Big Ten goalie of the year, and I knew it wasn’t going to be easy to get minutes, and that’s sort of what drove me to be able to work hard in practice and compete against our shooters all the time,” Robson said. “It’s still the same today as it was a year ago, right? We battle with each other and use each other as motivation.”
Schierhorn started every game his freshman and sophomore seasons when he earned those conference awards. That, combined with him being a fourth-year senior, has earned him a solid spot among the team’s leadership, something that Motzko learned early when every player he sat down with in his first one-on-one meetings named the goalie as a core leader. Motzko said he heard Schierhorn handled the transition to sitting on the bench more in a “remarkable” way.
“It’s been good. It’s healthy,” Schierhorn said of the competition. “There’s no hard feelings. Each guy wants to play. There’s no doubt about that. But there’s nothing taken out on each other.”
The two appear fairly different on the ice — Schierhorn called himself “more aggressive” while Robson is more “technically sound” — and that extends a bit to the way they dress, according to junior defenseman Ryan Zuhlsdorf. He said Robson doesn’t wear the usual athletic wear from Lululemon like a typical hockey player and instead chooses more of a “skater” look, tight jeans and all.
But where it matters at least, the two netminders are similar. Schierhorn has a .905 save percentage during his Gophers career and a 2.66 goals against average. Robson has a .933 save percentage and 2.11 goals against average.
“They’re both No. 1s in my book,” Zuhlsdorf said. “So either one of them playing that night, it doesn’t matter. We’ve got a good chance of winning the game.”
Schierhorn also said he and Robson aren’t like the stereotypical goalies “who have 100 superstitions” and are in their “own little world.” But at least one of their teammates doesn’t quite buy that.
“Don’t believe a goalie ever. They all got their own little niches,” Zuhlsdorf said. “It’s hard to explain, but there’s just something off after sitting in front of so many pucks getting ripped at you for so long. You’re bound to get screwed up.”
Whether weird or not, though, Robson and Schierhorn are in it together.
“It’s bigger than just who gets to play in net,” Robson said. “It’s all about the team winning.
“And whomever the coach decides to put in net, obviously he feels give us the best chance to win that night.”