The Gophers are suddenly without a starting goaltender.
Junior Mat Robson signed with the Wild on Monday and will join the team Tuesday, forgoing his last college season.
The Gophers just ended their season Saturday in the Big Ten semifinals in “unfair” fashion, as Robson said. The controversial overtime penalty that led to the Gophers’ demise was a bitter end to the Canadian’s collegiate career. And it forced a choice he had pushed to the background all season into focus.
“I didn’t even want to think about making this decision until pretty much this morning,” Robson said Monday. “I wanted to enjoy the time I had with my teammates, kind of soak it all in, let the emotions kind of take over. Just do what you need to do to get your mind right.”
At the same time, Robson said he always knew if he earned an opportunity to play at the highest level, he’d “take it and run with it.” But the decision was still “very hard.”
“You never want to feel like you’re turning your back or leaving people behind or cutting time short anywhere,” he said.
Robson played 31 games this season and 14 last year, after he became eligible halfway through the season. He set a career save-percentage record for the Gophers at .924 in that time. He originally had given up his NCAA eligibility to play for a major junior team in his native Canada. But a series of injuries, including one his draft year, led to struggles for playing time and made him reconsider.
He ended up at Clarkson with a year-and-a-half suspension, eventually making it to the Gophers in 2017-18. Gophers coach Bob Motzko has been effusive in his praise of Robson all season, often crediting the goaltender’s performance with the team’s good results. Motzko was not available for comment, but he will address the media Tuesday.
With the Wild, the free-agent signee inked a two-year, entry-level contract. He will report to the team immediately, but he isn’t eligible to play in the playoffs or the AHL until next season. So the next couple of weeks will be a way for him to acclimate to the NHL lifestyle while learning from pro coaches and players in preparation for next season.
Motzko will have the next seven months to ponder his goaltender situation, as fellow netminders Eric Schierhorn and Brock Kautz are graduating seniors.
The Gophers do have potentially three goaltenders in the pipeline for next season: Jared Moe, Jack LaFontaine and Justen Close. Moe, 6-3, 205 pounds, is from New Prague and has played the past two seasons with junior team Waterloo Black Hawks. LaFontaine, 6-2, 205 pounds, played for Michigan from 2016-18 before returning to his native Canada — he’s from the same Toronto suburb as Robson — to play junior hockey this season. Close, 5-10, 161 pounds, is another Canadian who has spent the past three seasons with the junior team Kindersley Klippers.
The future of the Gophers in goal has Robson pretty intrigued, at least.
“A very good buddy of mine coming in, LaFontaine, next year, so he’s going to be great,” Robson said. “And I’ve heard all good things about the other two goalies. It’s going to be fun to see them battle for the net. It’ll be good for all three of them now, that friendly competition. And it will be really nice to be able to be around [to watch it].”
Robson, also a Big Ten goaltender of the year finalist, might not be the only early departure. Junior center Rem Pitlick, a Nashville Predators pick, ended the season as one of the top scorers in the nation with 41 points.