NORTHVILLE, Mich. — The recruiting game, much like chess, means thinking several moves ahead. While the Minnesota Gophers have perhaps the most solid goaltending situation in college hockey heading into the 2021-22 season, with Mike Richter Award winner Jack LaFontaine returning for a final season in goal, there is less certainty on the horizon.

The future goaltending picture for the Gophers men's team became a bit clearer last week with the announcement that NAHL standout Owen Bartoszkiewicz has committed to the U of M, and will likely be on campus for the 2022-23 campaign.

With the return of Justen Close, who will be a junior this season, the arrival of freshman Brennan Boynton from Fargo of the USHL and the previous commitment of Geno Pichora, the Gophers will have plenty of future options to fill their crease.

Bartoszkiewicz (pronounced “Barta-SKAY-vitch”), 18, hails from Big Ten country, but is a recruiting coup for the Gophers, as he learned the game in the backyard of two conference rivals. Originally from suburban Detroit, he played last season for the Wichita Falls (Texas) Warriors, sporting a 23-14-4 record with a .917 saves percentage and a 2.44 goals-against average.

At 6-foot-2 and 194 pounds, he is the prototypical goalie with size that scouts prefer. A February story by Ryan Kennedy in Sports Illustrated/The Hockey News touted Bartoszkiewicz as “the goalie every scout needs to see.”

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“When Minnesota called I jumped all over it,” Bartoszkiewicz told The Rink Live. He hopes to major in aerospace and mechanical engineering. “I went and visited with (assistant) coach (Garrett) Raboin and it was really good to see the gym and the rink, to picture myself going there and working hard and enjoying it.”

For next season, he expects to play another season in juniors for Youngstown (Ohio) in the USHL, which holds his Tier I rights. He was ranked 22nd among North American goalies in the final NHL Central Scouting list in advance of this weekend’s NHL Entry Level Draft, and could be a middle-round pick.

Growing up in the shadow of Michigan State and Michigan, Bartoszkiewicz joked that he has several friends who play for the Wolverines, and they’re “too pretty” for him. He did have some ties to the State of Hockey, admitting that in about sixth grade he got a maroon hoodie with a “big old Gopher on it” and his father attended and swam for St. Cloud State.

“They were rivals against Minnesota and I just wanted to go against my dad, and I fell in love with the Gophers,” Bartoszkiewicz said in an interview with the Warriors’ team website. “The gym, the rink, and the people there were amazing and I could see myself just working hard and being there everyday, all day.”

Pichora, 18, who is from the Pittsburgh area and committed to the Gophers in March 2020, had a challenging season in 2020-21 with Danbury in the NAHL. He went 3-14-1 with an .887 GAA and a 3.51 saves percentage. He plans to play for Cedar Rapids in the USHL this coming winter. Pichora played six games for the RoughRiders in 2019-20, before the team suspended play last season due to damage at their arena caused by a severe wind storm.

Minnesota Gophers goaltender Jack LaFontaine fought off a Michigan Wolverines shot in the second period of game on Friday, March 5, 2021 at 3M Arena at Mariucci in Minneapolis. David Berding / The Rink Live
Minnesota Gophers goaltender Jack LaFontaine fought off a Michigan Wolverines shot in the second period of game on Friday, March 5, 2021 at 3M Arena at Mariucci in Minneapolis. David Berding / The Rink Live

Eight Gophers grab academic accolades

Reinforcing the “student” part of the student-athlete title, eight current or former Gophers were honored by the American Hockey Coaches Association for the work in the classroom, or more likely via Zoom last season, as the pandemic had many learning remotely.

The title of AHCA All-American scholar was bestowed upon LaFontaine, Nathan Burke, Mike Koster, Cullen Munson, Mason Nevers, Jack Perbix, Sammy Walker and Noah Weber. Burke and Weber entered the transfer portal at the end of last season and will not return to the Gophers.

To earn the honor, students must maintain a 3.0 grade-point average in each semester of the academic year. As a team, the Gophers combined for a 3.35 cumulative grade point average in both the Fall 2020 and Spring 2021 semesters, which was the best academic performances in program history.

Minnesota Gophers forward Steve Ulseth was named the WCHA's most valuable player in 1981 after leading the conference in scoring. In 2021 he was named to the school's M Club Hall of Fame. University of Minnesota Athletics photo.
Minnesota Gophers forward Steve Ulseth was named the WCHA's most valuable player in 1981 after leading the conference in scoring. In 2021 he was named to the school's M Club Hall of Fame. University of Minnesota Athletics photo.

Ulseth joins Gophers Hall of Fame

In early September, former Gophers hockey star Steve Ulseth will officially take his place among the most renowned athletes to wear maroon and gold, as a member of the newest class of the University of Minnesota M Club.

Ulseth, who is now 62 and originally from Roseville, was a four-year standout for the Gophers, winning a NCAA title for Herb Brooks in 1979 and leading the team in conference scoring in 1981, when the Gophers fell to arch-rival Wisconsin in the national title game under coach Brad Buetow. He was quick to credit teammates like Neal and Aaron Broten, Tim Harrer and others for his on-ice success. Ulseth was named the WCHA’s Player of the Year and was a finalist for the first Hobey Baker Award, won by his teammate Neal Broten in 1981.

“Steve walked on. We screwed up not giving him a scholarship to begin with,” Buetow said. “He was as good a player, night in and night out, as I had in the 12 years I coached there. He not only put points up, he was good defensively, he played man short, he played in all situations.”

Coming out of high school hockey at Kellogg (which is now part of the Roseville school district) and playing a few junior games for the St. Paul Vulcans under Doug Woog, Ulseth, who has worked in sporting goods sales for years after retiring from hockey, admitted that he was offered a scholarship to Wisconsin and a place on a line with Mike Eaves by legendary Badgers coach Bob Johnson. But Ulseth's heart was with the Gophers.

"Herbie came to my house and said, 'All I can say is if you come to Minnesota and make the team, I'll buy you a pair of skates,'" Ulseth recalled. "I did, and he did. Herbie said, 'Go to Steichen's Sporting Goods and pick out a pair of skates. You're on the team.' It was a different era back then."

The 11-person class of 2021 for the M Club, which will be honored the weekend of Sept. 10-12 when the Gopher football team hosts Miami University, also includes former Ms. Hockey winner and Gophers standout Winny Brodt Brown, also from Roseville.

Fargo Force forward Tristan Broz (9) skates past the bench after scoring against Waterloo on Friday, April 16, 2021, at Scheels Arena. David Samson / The Forum
Fargo Force forward Tristan Broz (9) skates past the bench after scoring against Waterloo on Friday, April 16, 2021, at Scheels Arena. David Samson / The Forum

World Junior Showcase changes draft night plans

When the NHL Draft begins on Friday, July 23, the consensus is that Michigan defenseman Owen Power will be the first overall pick of the Buffalo Sabres. In last year’s event, the pandemic did away with much of the traditional draft night fanfare, with things conducted remotely. Even with COVID restrictions loosened, this year will not yet be a “normal” event where players come to the stage in a NHL rink and don the jersey of their future employer. The 2021 draft will be conducted from a studio in New Jersey, and players will appear on-screen rather than in person.

Three incoming Gophers forwards — Chaz Lucius, Tristan Broz and Matthew Knies — are projected by many to be picked in the first two rounds, with some experts thinking Lucius will go in the top 10. All three players will be in suburban Detroit where they are attending the World Junior Summer Showcase, hosted by USA Hockey to select the American entry for next winter’s world tournament.

According to USA Hockey officials, there will be a room at the team hotel where players can watch the draft, celebrate with their families and field media calls if/when they are drafted.