The dominant painting on goalie Kent Patterson's mask features two Golden Gophers reaching forward with big claws. But on the back is an image of Mount Everest, a metaphor for the arduous climb of a six-month college hockey season.
"You get to certain base camps," Patterson said, "but it always gets harder as you get to the top."
So far, he has shown he is ready for the climb.
The only thing hotter than Patterson's mask -- the design recently took second place in a national contest, ousting four others before losing by seven fan votes this week in the finals -- is the senior's play this season.
In October, Patterson earned the highest honor a Division I player can receive this early in the season: national player of the month. His streak of consecutive starts is at 33. He leads all NCAA goalies in victories (10) and shutouts (five). He is also fifth in goals-against average (1.66) and sixth in save percentage (.935).
"From the time [Kent] was 8 or 9, I had him in camps," said Robb Stauber, a former Hobey Baker Award winner who shares the team record for shutouts in a season with Patterson. "There is an old saying: Sometimes you can tell a kid has got 'it.' He had 'it.' ... When you look at his game now, there are not a lot of holes. He is so solid fundamentally."
Patterson credits much of his success this season to his defensemen and forwards. He had a career-high 46 saves in the Gophers' two 5-4 victories at Minnesota Duluth last month. But in his other 10 games, he has faced an average of 21 shots.
"The guys are blocking shots at the points and they are getting sticks in the lanes," Patterson said.
Patterson said he models himself after Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller.
"He definitely knows the game really well, and he definitely seems calm and relaxed," Patterson said.
So does the 6-1, 196-pound Patterson, a fourth-round pick of Colorado in the 2007 NHL draft. He never seems too excited or depressed in postgame interviews regardless of the result.
That even keel served him well as his career as a college goalie stalled during much of his first two seasons as a Gopher. He sat. He watched. He waited. But always he remained a good teammate. Alex Kangas was the Gophers' clear No. 1 goalie. Patterson stayed patient, recognizing that Kangas was instrumental in many victories.
Patterson's chance to play regularly finally came as a junior late last October against St. Cloud State -- the same team the No. 1-rated Gophers face this weekend in a home-and-home series.
Patterson relieved Kangas with the Gophers trailing the Huskies 5-0 late in the second period at Mariucci Arena. He stopped all 12 shots he faced in an eventual 5-2 loss. The next night in the same venue, Patterson stopped 25 shots as the Gophers won 2-1.
He started both games of a series for the first time the next weekend. In mid-December, Kangas re-aggravated a hip injury and had season-ending surgery. Patterson, already starting most games, played every minute of the final 21. He finished with a 14-9-6 record and a 2.29 goals-against average last season. He was named to the all-WCHA second team.
Gophers forward Jake Hansen said Patterson's confidence kept building last season and has continued to grow.
"He definitely has a little swagger to him now," Hansen said. "He should because he is one of the best goalies in the country."