Michael Shibrowski waited more than a year for the opportunity and you couldn’t tell.
It had been 394 days, nearly 13 months, since the Gophers backup goaltender started, yet he had no problem shutting out Minnesota State Mankato 3-0 on Saturday night at Mariucci Arena.
Shibrowski stopped 25 shots, most of them with only a one-goal lead, in only his fifth appearance for the Gophers (8-1-1) to pick up the night’s first star and the heart of the game honor.
More importantly, though, the announced 9,838 fans gave him two large ovations, and his teammates rushed to embrace him after the game.
“Definitely able to hear it,” Shibrowski said about his ovations throughout the game. “It sends a little shiver down your spine. … It’s definitely something special. You can’t say enough about the bond we [the Gophers] have.”
Senior Tom Serratore’s first goal of the season gave the Gophers the insurance Shibrowski had survived without for most the game against the Mavericks (4-6). While Justin Holl wrestled for the puck in front of the net, Serratore rushed in and finished high for a 2-0 lead 11 minutes, 5 seconds into the third period.
The goal broke 45 minutes of impressive stops by Minnesota State goaltender Cole Huggins and opened the door for a third Gophers goal.
Sam Warning found Hudson Fasching in front of the goal for a 3-0 lead and the final blow.
The Gophers survived most the game with that one-goal advantage. Freshman defenseman Jake Bischoff scored 6:20 in, and the goaltenders took over from there.
Shibrowski shook off any rust the past year built up and played confidently from the opening minutes. Coach Don Lucia, who played Adam Wilcox in goal for each of the first nine games of the season, said Shibrowski looked in control, despite only having half a day to prepare mentally for the start. Lucia informed Shibrowski he would start Saturday morning.
Throughout the week, though, Gophers captains were pushing for their teammate to get a chance in the net. Lucia admired the respect Shibrowski’s teammates showed for him and found a spot for him this weekend.
“He’s a tremendous teammate. For a guy that hasn’t played that much, he works as hard as anyone on the team,” Lucia said. “Guys were excited for his start tonight and I thought they’d be. I thought we played a little better and tighter in front of him than we played Friday night.”
Shibrowski didn’t know if such a day would ever come again. He transferred to the Gophers after his freshman season at Colorado College and has been playing a backup role ever since. He was in contention for the starting job as junior, but battled injuries while then-freshman Wilcox quickly adapted to the college game and won the job.
Last season, Shibrowski started the first and third games of the season and played once in relief in January.
“I was just kind of waiting and seeing, and it worked out that I got to play [Saturday], and I’m thankful for that opportunity,” Shibrowski said. “... My main focus was to be there for [my teammates].”
Lucia was disappointed with the Gophers’ effort in the last 10 minutes of Friday night’s game, a 4-1 victory. Lucia thought his roster’s youth came through as the Mavericks made a late push and won the shots on goal battle.
The effort was much better Saturday night, though. The Gophers’ final two goals came in the final stretch of the game and secured the shutout for Shibrowski.
“Sometimes you gotta find a way to get a win and we ground one out tonight,” Lucia said. “That second goal was huge and we quickly got the third goal. That was the separation we needed.”