For many sports, having a good goaltender can sometimes be the vital X-factor that separates a good team from a great team.
After earning its first shutout of the season Friday in a 2-0 win in the first game of a series against No. 14 Minnesota-Duluth, the Wisconsin men’s hockey team may have found just such a player in sophomore goaltender Joel Rumpel.
Even though there are plenty of games left in the WCHA season, a shutout victory in the first game certainly bodes well for both Rumpel and the Badgers as they look to get back on track after a disappointing season — by Wisconsin hockey standards — in 2011.
While Rumpel had his fair share of highs during his freshman campaign, earning three shutouts over the course of the season — the most by a freshman netminder in UW hockey history — on a young, inexperienced team, Rumpel would only finish the season with a 12-12-2 record.
Just a season ago, head coach Mike Eaves had used both Rumpel and fellow sophomore Landon Peterson between the pipes for the Badgers, with Rumpel playing in 26 games and Peterson in 13.
In the first series of the 2012-13 season, this trend seemed to continue against Northern Michigan, as Rumpel started in the first game before Peterson took over for game two.
But after Rumpel’s performance against UMD — a performance that would earn him WCHA Defensive Player of the Week honors — Eaves was the first to admit the goaltender competition may not be as close as it once was.
“There’s a little space now,” Eaves said at his Monday press conference. “It would be silly to say anything less of the young man who’s got a 95 save percentage and a low goals against. … [Rumpel has] separated that a bit, yes.”
Originally growing up in Saskatchewan, Rumpel was influenced by his uncle — former All-American UW goaltender Roy Schultz — when it came to choosing where he wanted to play college hockey.
And by the time it was his turn to make a decision, Rumpel said he couldn’t imagine playing anywhere else.
“There was never really a question in my mind. Wisconsin, I had always heard about growing up,” Rumpel said. “Everything about this place, we sometimes have to pinch ourselves in the dressing room. I can’t believe anyone would choose to go play anywhere else.”
Now with his first shutout of the season under his belt, Rumpel said it is important he continue his improvement throughout the season, and as a result he has learned to treat every practice as though it were a real game scenario.
“My uncle always told me, ‘You go into practice and you try to get a shutout,’ Rumpel said. “You don’t want anyone to score on you; you don’t want to make any bad plays on the puck. If you treat [practice] like a game it just makes game situations that much easier.”
While Rumpel is certainly more confident after his strong performance Friday and Saturday against UMD, he isn’t the only one to share those sentiments. The whole team has gained confidence from his strong play early in the season, especially the defensemen.
“He’s a guy back there that if something does fail, if our systems do fail, … we know Joel is going to make that save 99 out of 100 times,” said Rumpel’s roommate, sophomore defenseman Jake McCabe. “It just gives us a confidence back there that we do have a darn good goalie and he is going to back us up.”
McCabe also said that Rumpel’s calm, relaxed demeanor is different from many other goaltenders who play the game.
Goaltenders can be an odd breed as they don’t just tolerate, but actually embrace the idea of having hockey pucks shot at them from all directions — some of them flying as fast as 85 to 95 mph.
Following that mentality, they also tend to have a stereotype for being more superstitious — especially if they get on hot streaks — as many have certain traditions they must follow before every game.
While McCabe said he hasn’t noticed too many weird superstitions in his roommate’s preparation, with the Badgers now undefeated in their last two games with Rumpel in front of the net, only time will tell if Rumpel will get more superstitious as the season wears on.
“I don’t think I am too quirky [yet],” Rumpel joked. “I like to keep my normal routine. I usually get to the rink a little early, tape my stick up. … Always before the game I have to have a cold shower or jump in a cold tub for a bit to wake me up a little bit. That’s about all I’ve got though.”
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