Freshman netminder Rob Gunderson has an ability to make one feel very comfortable quickly as he is quick to give a handshake and smile to everyone he meets.
His play of late, however, has opponents feeling anything but comfort and is making for all smiles on the UAA Seawolves bench amongst the players and coaches.
Gunderson has ascended quickly as the Seawolves begin their push towards the postseason and is gaining that much needed experience and confidence young goalies need to survive the tough-as-nails WCHA.
“He’s played more and he’s starting to figure out this league,” said UAA Head Coach Dave Shyiak. “I think the experience so far for him has been all positive and he is running with the opportunity.”
So he’s got the experience part down, but what about the confidence bit?
“The boys are playing unreal in front of me and giving me all the easy shots I like,” Gunderson said. “Personally though, I like more work.
“If I’m getting 30 to 40 shots a night then I’m going to be feeling pretty good.”
Well I think we can check confidence off the list for the kid.
“I think it’s important, especially in this league, to get a young goalie like Rob some experience,” said senior winger Tommy Grant. “Even if he has some games where he may not have been at his best, the fact is he has kept gaining experience and learning.”
Gunderson was quick to give the love right back to the guys in front him.
“The guys are getting more confidence in me and that’s great to have as it just gives me more confidence in myself as well as in my defenseman,” Gunderson said.
One may think that after a month break over the holidays, a team could, and perhaps should, have a bit of rink rust upon returning to the action.
Someone forgot to tell Gunderson and the ‘Wolves (5-8-2 WCHA, 6-10-3 Overall) as they came out and dismantled 19th ranked Colorado College (8-7-0 WCHA, 12-10-1 Overall) 4-1 on Jan. 14. The Seawolves used a potent power play and used 21 of 22 saves from Gunderson.
The 6’1”, 190-pound goalie hailing from Lethbridge, Alberta so far has a goals-against average of 2.49 and .900 save percentage to date. Both numbers continue to get better and better as the season wears on.
Gunderson, who has turned away 315 of the 350 shots he faced this year in his 14 starts, is living up to a mantra of what separates good from great goalies: make the saves that you should and make some that you shouldn’t.
“He’s playing well for us now so we need him to keep that confidence and keep giving us a chance to win every night,” Grant said.
Speaking of playing, it’s been all the guy has done lately. He has gotten the nod from Shyiak the past seven straight games.
Perhaps the only thing slowing this goalie is a coach not afraid to take risks.
Take for example back in a Dec. 4 game against the Wisconsin Badgers. The Seawolves were down 2-0 after two periods thanks to two power play strikes from UW and were struggling to generate any scoring chances in the UW end.
Between periods, Shyiak pulled Gunderson off to the side in the locker room and gave him instructions for the third period if the Seawolves weren’t having any luck finding their first goal of the game still.
“He called me over to the corner and said ‘Gundy, you come to the bench and act like you’re getting water at the ten minute mark and I’m going to pull you off for an extra man’ and I was stunned,” Gunderson said. “I looked at him as he said that and had a laugh but he just stared through me with his eyes and was dead serious.”
The gamble ended up paying off and the ‘Wolves got one back on the Badgers. Though they ultimately loss that game 3-1 after a DU empty netter, it is gambles like this coupled with a go-to masked man that has the Seawolves making a charge up the WCHA standings.
Gunderson should be between the pipes on Jan. 21 when the Seawolves hit the road to take on 6th ranked Denver.
The DU Pioneers sit in 3rd in the WCHA, a mere point out of first, and will bring an arsenal of offensive firepower against the Seawolves. Sophomore Drew Shore will more than likely spearhead Denver attack as he comes in with 13 goals and 14 assists so far on the year.
The two teams met recently before the holiday break on Dec. 10-11 at the Sullivan Arena. The then 9th ranked Pioneers come away with a 5-3 win and 2-2 tie at the Seawolves rink. The green and gold will look to take down some road points of their own when they invade DU’s Magness Arena Jan. 21-22.
UAA sits in a tie for 8th place for now in the 12-team conference but is two points out of 7th and four points from 5th. The top six teams in conference will get home ice advantage come conference postseason play.
With the playoffs in sight, Gunderson was quick to point out his ultimate goal didn’t just end with playoff glory.
“I want the hockey here to step up and return to how it was in the day,” said Gunderson, who spoke about the early 1990’s when the Seawolves were the hottest ticket in the city. “Now on a good night our building is half full, but I want to help turn that around.”
Did I mention the confidence this guy has?