Gophers backup goalie Michael Shibrowski has not played a single minute this season, yet he is a vital part of the team.
Think of the well-traveled sophomore as the U's invaluable insurance policy. Coach Don Lucia hopes he never has to call upon him this season. But if he does -- in an emergency -- Shibrowski is always there.
He sits on one end of the team bench in full gear, waiting and ready for the worst to happen. He will be there again Friday as the Gophers play Niagara on the first day of the Mariucci Classic. Senior Kent Patterson is slated to make his 21st consecutive start in the nets this season for the Gophers and his 42nd in a row going back to Dec. 4 of last season.
"The reality is, just like Kent had to pay his dues, Mike is paying his," Lucia said. "The most important thing Mike can do right now is to continue to work with [goalie coach] Justin Johnson -- which he has, he is an extremely hard worker -- and wait for his opportunity. If Kent plays Friday night, he can get hurt and be out a week or two weeks. You have to be ready when you get your chance. Whether [Mike's] chance is going to happen this week, next month or next year, I don't know. I do know if Kent is playing well and he is ready, he is going to play."
Shibrowski's road to the Gophers has been filled with twists and turns. He has played for four teams since high school, all in different states.
"It has been a roller coaster," he said. "There were times when I just wasn't good enough for this team or good enough for that team, and I just had to keep working."
The ride began when he left Benilde-St. Margaret's halfway through his senior season. The Red Knights were playing three goalies. He wanted more ice time and found it at Russell Stover, a Tier I program in Kansas City, Mo.
Next, he played for the Owatonna Express of the NAHL the first half of the 2009-10 season, and Colorado College the second half. Last season, he posted a 2.59 goals-against average for Des Moines of the USHL. He collected all the Buccaneers' awards: MVP, fan favorite and best sportsman.
"He was a very calm presence, and did not have many off days," Bucs coach Regg Simon said. "We won 28 games with a lunch-pail team."
The Gophers noticed. When they offered him a roster spot, it was an easy decision for Shibrowski. He grew up watching them.
"I remember playing knee hockey, pretending to be [goalie] Adam Hauser when they won the national championship," Shibrowski said. "Minnesota was the place I wanted to be."
Patterson waited two-plus seasons behind Alex Kangas to become the Gophers' No. 1 goalie. Shibrowski, a sophomore from Andover, has only been on the roster for half a season. He's a patient, but determined netminder. At 6-2 and 190, he's an inch taller but six pounds lighter than Patterson.
"We have a good relationship," Shibrowski said. "I try to support [Kent]. He has been great about helping me."
A few times this season, Patterson has gotten knocked down and Shibrowski wondered if he was going in.
"[Kent] is a tough kid," Shibrowski said. "It is going to take more than him getting bumped to come out. You just always have to be ready."
Next season, Patterson will be gone. Adam Wilcox, a goalie for Tri-City of the USHL, will come in as a freshman to compete for the starting job with Shibrowski.
"We certainly see Michael as a potential No. 1 goaltender," Johnson said.
Shibrowski, naturally, wants the job.
"I've definitely improved a lot since I came in," he said. "The game is starting to slow down a little bit. When I got here, it was fast. It was moving all over, and you are just trying to keep up."