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Adjustments in order after small-town BCHL goalie commits to big-city hockey with the Gophers

Visiting the University of Minnesota in January, Nathan Airey witnessed high-intensity hockey versus Michigan with a huge crowd looking on. He liked what he saw and picked the Gophers this week.

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While playing for the Cranbrook Bucks of the British Columbia Junior Hockey League, goalie Nathan Airey visited the University of Minnesota in January 2023 and committed to the Gophers a few weeks later.
Contributed / Martin Ross / Cranbrook Bucks

CRANBROOK, B.C. — When you play goalie, you are constantly adjusting to try and be square to the puck. No matter what angle a challenging puck comes from, you want to adjust quickly and meet it head on.

As he looks ahead to the start of what he hopes will be a successful college hockey career, goalie Nathan Airey admits there will be some adjustments to be made is his life as well.

Airey, who turns 20 in the spring and is currently stopping pucks for the Cranbrook Bucks of the British Columbia Junior Hockey League, took a few minutes on Friday, Feb. 3, to announce via Instagram that he will be a Minnesota Gopher next season. He will follow the likes of Justen Close, Jack LaFontaine and Matt Robson as the next Canadian junior hockey product to stand guard in the 3M Arena at Mariucci crease.

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Goaltender Nathan Airey
Avery Hansen / Cranbrook Bucks

“My phone has been going off with congrats, but it’s been awesome,” Airey told The Rink Live a few hours before the Bucks were set to host Prince George. “I’m enjoying it so far.”

While the net and the puck in college hockey will be the same size and shape that he has gotten used to, Airey admitted that coming from roots in small-town Alberta, coming to an urban campus in the heart of a major American city and playing in front of as many as 10,000 will take some adjustments. He got a taste of things a few weeks ago, making a visit to the school and the rink for a game versus Michigan, which was part of the best-attended weekend in the 30 years that the Gophers’ new rink has been open.


“The people that are there are awesome. It really seemed like a family, and a great culture,” Airey said. “The campus is really nice as well, with all the different sports. We got to see a game and the atmosphere was amazing.”

With some notable size (he is listed as 6-foot-3), Airey has appeared in 24 games for the Bucks, winning 15 of them with a 2.21 goals-against average and a .935 saves percentage.

As she moves to the next stage of her hockey career, the former Ms. Hockey winner and Minnesota Gophers star took one last look back at her final game in maroon and gold.
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“I like to be calm, and be a big, solid presence in net, making the big saves when I need to and trying to calm everything down when stuff is going crazy,” he said, admitting that like many goalies, Airey has “the slightest amount of OCD” which leads to a strictly followed game-day routine. “I do everything down to the minute.”

While he didn’t offer many details, Airey admitted that a variety of country music is part of his pregame prep. In his Instagram announcement, Airey was pictured wearing jersey number 29, which was last worn by Chaz Lucius in 2021-22, his lone season as a Gopher.

Assuming Airey joins the Gophers for next season, it is an indication that Close will likely not play a fifth year with the program That would leave Owen Bartoszkiewicz, Zach Wiese and Airey as the team’s goalie options in 2023-24. They also have a commitment from Geno Pichora, who picked the Gophers three years ago and is currently skating with the NAHL’s Aberdeen Wings.

Jess Myers covers college hockey, as well as outdoors, general sports and travel, for The Rink Live and the Forum Communications family of publications. He came to FCC in 2018 after three decades of covering sports as a freelancer for a variety of publications, while working full time in politics and media relations. A native of Warroad, Minn. (the real Hockeytown USA), Myers has a degree in journalism/communications from the University of Minnesota Duluth. He lives in the Twin Cities. Contact Jess via email at jrmyers@forumcomm.com, or find him on Twitter via @JessRMyers. English speaker.
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