Zach Driscoll put together one of the best seasons by a goaltender the Western Collegiate Hockey Association has ever seen.
The Beaver netminder’s 1.63 goals against average in 2019-20 ranks third nationally and fourth all time in league history. Legendary BSU coach Bob Peters owns the all-time record with his 1.27 GAA in 1957-58 for North Dakota.
Anytime you’re mentioned alongside Peters, you know you’re in good company.
Driscoll completed his junior season with a .937 save percentage to boot, good for fifth in the country, while finishing 21-8-4 in 33 starts as the Beavers cruised to a 22-10-5 season. His 21 wins ranked sixth nationally, while his four shutouts tied him for eighth.
“Obviously it looks good individually, but that ultimately reflects the big picture of how good our team was,” Driscoll said. “Our team played so well defensively where I was able to have those numbers.”
“There’s a reason we had the record we did,” head coach Tom Serratore added, “because he was consistent all year. There weren’t many nights Zach was off. … He was dialed in and he was on pretty much the entire year.”
After being named an All-WCHA Second Team selection, Driscoll was named one of 10 semifinalists for the Mike Richter Award as the nation’s top goalie last week. Though he wasn’t among the five finalists announced Monday, such an accomplishment puts him in rare air.
“It’s a really big honor,” the goalie said. “There was a multitude of good goalies who were left off that list. To be chosen as one of the 10 is a big honor.”
Normally, a season like Driscoll’s would be enough to garner WCHA Goaltender of the Year honors, though not with Minnesota State’s Dryden McKay (1.31 GAA, .942 save percentage) standing in the way. Driscoll got the best of the Mavericks netminder, however, with a career-high 48 saves in a 4-2 win over then No. 2 MSU in January.
“Those games are the most fun as goalies,” Driscoll said. “When you’re seeing pucks (and) that number of shots in a game, it’s really easy to stay focused mentally. At that point, you’re just doing everything you can to give your team a chance to win.”
After transferring from St. Cloud State, Driscoll alternated with Henry Johnson for the starting role between the pipes before establishing himself as the No. 1 goalie in the second half of the 2018-19 season. Driscoll only needed two weekends to secure the starting job full time in 2019-20, and he made sure the coaches’ decision paid off.
“He was so confident,” Serratore said. “A lot of it was how he played the puck, even. He wanted to play the puck. He wasn’t afraid to make a mistake with the puck. And when those goalies are that confident with the puck, that just means they’re confident with their overall game.”
“I think the entire coaching staff gave me all the confidence in the world this year,” Driscoll added. “They put their trust in me, and that just makes it that much easier to go out and do my job on Friday and Saturday night.”
Driscoll, an Apple Valley native, also credits his offseason work in the Twin Cities with goalie coach Dave Rogalski and vision coach Josh Tucker. Even the yoga he practices with sister, Courtney, has gone a long way to make him the goalie he is.
“My sister is a yoga instructor, so I actually go to a lot of her classes and use that as a way to stay flexible and mobile,” Driscoll said. “As a goalie, it’s not necessarily about throwing on a ton of weight, but rather staying flexible and limber.”
Driscoll keeping busy amid shutdown
Like his teammates and countless others in college hockey, Driscoll has had the last couple of weeks to come to terms with how the season ended. Bemidji State was one day away from opening a WCHA semifinal series with Bowling Green when the coronavirus pandemic canceled the rest of the postseason.
“Obviously when we found out it stings because of where we were at as a team,” Driscoll said. “We were in a position we wanted to put ourselves in. But at the end of the day, everybody in college hockey is in the same boat.
“... I think we have to look back at what we did accomplish and what was within our control. We had a great year. I think the guys coming back next year are going to use that ending as, hopefully, motivation to try and get back in that same spot next year.”
Driscoll is staying at his girlfriend’s house in Alexandria as he passes the time with most of society shut down for the foreseeable future.
“We’re just trying to find ways to keep busy,” he said. “Going on bike rides, trying to enjoy the nice weather and hang out a little bit before we get back into the swing of things.”
The junior accounting major participated in his first online class when the semester resumed Monday.
“I had my first Zoom online class today with 35 students participating. That was definitely a first,” Driscoll said. “I’m one of the lucky ones where all but one of my classes were online anyway, so it’s not too much of an adjustment for me. I only have to do that video interview stuff for one class.”
Driscoll is set to finish his accounting degree this summer and will be a full-time MBA student next school year, when all his classes will be online by design.
In the meantime, the Beaver goalie and his teammates will finish out the semester remotely. With players off campus, the training staff has altered workout routines accordingly.
“Our staff and our strength coach Dallas Charles has been really good about sending us workouts,” Driscoll said. “They kind of understand what all the players are going through in terms of potentially not having access to weight rooms with everything being shut down. Dallas has done a great job of modifying workouts.”