By Jess Myers
MINNEAPOLIS — If one visits 3M Arena at Mariucci on a Thursday afternoon during hockey season and there are three pucks on the ice between Minnesota Gophers goalie Jared Moe and right winger Blake McLaughlin, the stakes are high. Specifically, there is Mexican food on the line.
“Every Thursday in practice we play three pucks,” McLaughlin explained. “I get one shot from the top of the circles and two mini breakaways. If I score one goal, (Jared) owes me Chipotle. If he stops all three, I owe him Chipotle. It’s a fun thing we do.”
This week, while passing out free tickets and winter hats to students along the Northrop Mall on the U of M’s sprawling Twin Cities campus, Moe boasted that they’ve played three times, and McLaughlin has bought lunch twice as a result. More importantly, after two starts at the college level, Moe is 2-0-0.
“It’s a little early, but the first snapshot is good,” Gophers coach Bob Motzko said.
If one posts a snapshot on Instagram or SnapChat or another photo app, the image is often reversed and everything looks backwards. But if you look at a picture of Moe and he’s holding his goalie stick with the left hand, do not adjust your set. For the first time since Pete Samargia played five games for the Gophers in the 2000-01 season, they’ve got a left-handed goalie on the roster. It’s one unique feature that Moe has come to relish.
“I’ll hear guys in practice that shoot one into my glove and then mutter, ‘Oh, I thought there was a blocker there,’” Moe said. “It’s getting better now, but right away I heard that a lot.”
Lefty goalies (sometimes bewilderingly referred to as “full right” by the equipment manufacturers) are not unheard of. Moe’s hockey hero a decade ago was Minnesota Wild goalie Josh Harding, who serves as the goalie coach for Edina High School in retirement, and held his stick with the left hand.
From 2013-16 at St. Cloud State, Motzko coached Charlie Lindgren. Lindgren , who is right-handed but plays goalie with the glove on the right hand, is in the Montreal Canadiens system.
While the statistics do not show that lefties in the net have a significant advantage, it does definitely get in the heads of some shooters.
“Like many areas of life, we can surely over-think these things, but I know there are a lot of shooters that like to go low stick side, or shoot for the blocker, so the goalie has less chance to glove the puck and get a whistle,” said Hockey East commissioner Joe Bertagna, who played goalie at Harvard and has run goalie schools on the East Coast for years. “If a goalie is left-handed, all of that is different. Percentage-wise, you’re not going to see a lot of goalies who hold their stick with the left hand, so it’s just one more thing for a shooter to think about.”
At first glance, it’s rare to notice which hands Moe uses to hold his glove and blocker. It’s more likely that his size will catch your eye initially. He’s listed as 6-foot-3, but looks significantly taller and wider on the ice. In Moe’s first two starts — a win at Colorado College and a win at home versus Niagara — he’s stopped nearly as many pucks with his shoulders, as shooters try and fail to go high on him, as he has with his legs.
“Even on his knees, his shoulder is still over the crossbar,” McLaughlin noted. “It’s insane.”
That makes Moe — a sixth round draft pick of the Winnipeg Jets in 2018 — particularly effective the closer opponents get to the net, as the amount of open space they have to shoot for gets smaller and smaller, and the goalie looks bigger and bigger.
Battling the butterflies
Originally from New Prague, Minn., Moe made his way to the U of M after three seasons of prep hockey at Holy Family Catholic, then two seasons playing juniors in the United States Hockey League for the Waterloo (Iowa) Blackhawks.
He missed part of last season with a knee injury, but was back to full speed by the end of the winter hockey season, and played in Da Beauty League over the summer, facing shots from myriad college and NHL standouts.
By contrast to those “defense optional” games on warm summer nights in Edina, Moe has found the structure of the college game, and the propensity of his defenders to “eat pucks” before they get to the net to be a refreshing change of pace. Still, he admitted battling some big butterflies in Colorado Springs two weeks ago, while making his first start.
The Gophers trailed 2-0 and 3-1 that night, before a rally and a 4-3 win. On Oct. 19 versus Niagara, the Purple Eagles scored 35 seconds into the game, and again the Gophers mounted a successful comeback. The things Moe has done after those early shots have eluded him are what have left the biggest impression with his coaches.
“Both times he’s hunkered down, has been very strong, and the deeper into games he’s gotten stronger in both of his outings,” Motzko said. “I look at that more than the first one going in.”
As opposed to his Saturday night starts, the real pressure for this rookie goalie comes 48 hours earlier when it’s just him, McLaughlin and three pucks on the ice. Moe knows well that if the first one goes in the net on a Thursday afternoon, he will be paying for the burritos.