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MEN'S HOCKEY: BSU transfer goalie set to meet former team in St. Cloud

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BSU sophomore goalie Zach Driscoll makes a save during an Oct. 6 exhibition game against Lakehead at the Sanford Center. (BSU photo services)2 / 2

BEMIDJI -- Zach Driscoll might be more familiar with Bemidji State’s opponent this week than his own team.

The Beavers’ sophomore goalie will man the opposite net he occupied two years ago for St. Cloud State as the schools meet in a non-conference series this weekend, Nov. 16-17.

“It’ll be weird to be back playing in the Herb Brooks Center for the first time in two years,” said Driscoll, who spent his freshman year at SCSU in 2016-17. “... It’s a date that we’ve had circled on the calendar for a while, that’s for sure.”

Driscoll started 11 of the Huskies’ first 15 games that season. However, the Apple Valley native was pulled in the middle of a December contest against Omaha and never started a game for St. Cloud again, ending his tenure at SCSU with a 6-6-1 record, a 3.18 goals against average and .888 save percentage.

Realizing he might not see much ice time with now-starter David Hrenak on the way, Driscoll decided to return to junior hockey for a year of seasoning.

That decision paid off big time.

In 38 games with the Omaha Lancers, Driscoll was named a USHL second-team all-star in 2017-18 while posting a 23-9-1-1 record and earning USA Hockey Dave Peterson Goalie of the Year in the process.

“It was not the easiest decision. It was kind of tough deciding to leave college and go back to juniors and giving it another go,” Driscoll said. “But talking with my family and coach (David) Wilkie in Omaha, I think I made a good choice. I’m loving it here in Bemidji so far.”

“The biggest thing with Zach is he came in one year before we'd planned for him to come in,” said SCSU assistant coach Mike Gibbons. “In hindsight, it probably would have been better for everybody if we could have kept him in juniors. I don't think it was anyone's fault. But I think one more year of junior hockey would've really helped both of us. He's proven to be a very good goalie.”

When it came time to re-enter the college ranks, Driscoll and BSU made a perfect match.

“We were losing a pretty good goalie last year in Mike Bitzer,” BSU head coach Tom Serratore said, “so it was a good situation for a kid coming into our program right here where the guy that’s played for four years and 138 games is leaving. It opened up a void, not only for our two goalies who are coming back, but also the incoming goaltender.

“Zach’s a Minnesota guy. To me it was just a good situation for both parties.”

The Eastview High School graduate remains close to some of his former teammates, including forward Patrick Newell. After once facing Driscoll in practice, the Huskies will now get a chance to see him in game action.

“It'll be fun because a lot of the guys here really liked him and he's a great guy,” Newell said. “We've been talking to him. Hopefully, we'll get a chance to see him in net and score on him. It will be a good little rivalry.”

Goalies bring out the best in each other

The Beavers don’t have a single No. 1 goalie at this point, though Driscoll and Hank Johnson might as well be considered Nos. 1A and 1B.

The two have started four games apiece through the team’s first eight games with Johnson (3-1-0) getting the nod on Fridays, and Driscoll (2-1-1) on Saturdays.

There are few goalies nationally who have started as strong as the BSU duo.

Driscoll ranks first in the nation in save percentage (.959) and second in goals against average (0.98), while Johnson is fourth in save percentage (.948) and third in goals against average (1.25).

The goalies have pushed each other to be at their best through the season’s first month.

“Competition is always good,” Driscoll said. “Anytime you’re battling for a spot like that -- whether it’s me, Hank or Jack (Burgart) -- everybody’s competing every day in practice. Nobody takes any shifts, or shots for us goalies, off so it’s been really good in practice so far.

“We get along really well off the ice. (Johnson) is one of my roommates so we spend a lot of time together. We’re always seeing each other off the ice, as well as on the ice, so it’s been a really good relationship so far.”

Austin Monteith

Austin Monteith is a sports reporter for the Bemidji Pioneer. He is an Illinois native and a Butler University graduate. Follow him on Twitter @amonteith92.

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