Thanks to goaltending staples Strauss Mann and Erik Portillo, the question of who would be starting goalkeeper has been nonexistent for the Michigan hockey team. Having two brick wall netminders back-to-back blessed the Wolverines for years. However, the days of reliance on Mann or Portillo have ended, and Michigan is left with the question: Who’s next?
As of right now, that question remains unanswered, and it may remain that way for much of the season.
The competition for starting goalkeeper lies between senior Noah West — a member of the team since his sophomore year — and graduate student Jacob Barczewski, a transfer student from Canisius.
“It’s kind of wide open,” Michigan coach Brandon Naurato said Saturday, following the exhibition versus Simon Fraser. “(Barczewski and West) will figure it out for us.”
Noah West hasn’t seen much ice time in his career as a Wolverine. Between his sophomore and junior years, he logged five games as the second-string netminder behind Erik Portillo. With an average save percentage of .920 last season, he stood as a strong backup to one of the best goalkeepers in college hockey. His starts against Penn State last year — amassing 78 saves across the two-game series — showed that he can take on a challenge and be a rock for the Wolverines under pressure.
Barczewski, on the other hand, may be new to Michigan, but he’s not new to success between the pipes. He brings in experience far beyond West’s, starting all four of his seasons at Canisius. As a strong presence in the net, he aided the Golden Griffins to an NCAA tournament in 2023, where they lost to Minnesota in the first round. As the Canisius MVP two years in a row in 2021 and 2022, he proved that he is a strong team presence and leader from the back in the Atlantic Hockey Association (AHA). However, the Big Ten is a whole new beast, and the heightened competition will be a significant adjustment.
“Moving forward if someone takes the net, great,” Naurato said. “If we have two great goalies all year and we’re winning hockey games, that’s fine too.”
In the exhibition game against Simon Fraser on Saturday, both players saw the ice for equal amounts of time. Barczewski started in goal, but the Wolverines’ dominance over the Red Leafs made his job simple, with 11 saves and a shutout in his thirty minutes of action.
West also had a strong second half with seven saves, but allowed one goal to slip past him. A slow puck shot from distance managed to slowly glide past him and into the back of the net, catching him by surprise when it scored and with no other Michigan players on the blue line to help him. Besides this momentary lapse, both players held their own at the net, with solid saves across the three periods.
“We’ve communicated to them that they’re gonna keep splitting and battling it out,” Naurato said. “I don’t have a number of games that we’re gonna do that for.”
Each goalkeeper has a lot on their shoulders trying to fill the shoes of their predecessors, with even more to prove to both the team and its fans. While the beginning of the season will see equal playing time for both Barczewski and West, what lies ahead for the two is a question without an answer.
If Saturday is any indication of the future, the decision may not come anytime soon.