Over the last three weekends, one Wolverine’s name has been unusually prevalent on the score sheet. Thanks to an assist in each series, junior goalie Al Montoya was seventh on the team in helpers during that span. But as Montoya begins to establish himself as an offensive threat, senior forwards Eric Nystrom and Milan Gajic are both trying to make their case between the pipes.
As has been a tradition after practice a couple times a week, a forward dons a goalie glove and blocker and tries to stop some shots.
Nystrom is no stranger to the goal, having spent some time there during summer workouts. But the senior captain wasn’t really sure if his team would be better suited with him in goal and Montoya bearing down on opposing team’s net.
“I’m a way better goalie than he is (at forward); he can’t even skate,” Nystrom said jokingly. “(Montoya’s) pretty good out there at forward, but I don’t know — I’m a pretty good goalie.”
According to Gajic, his own style closely resembles a butterfly while Nystrom is more of a stand-up goalie. Both, in fact, look the same between the net. They hunch over and try to protect their cup from being cracked by a shot.
“(Nystrom) can’t really do the butterfly,” Montoya said.
Despite his seemingly unorthodox style, Gajic has the self-confidence and quick glove needed to at least be the team’s fourth-string goalie.
“I think I can do a lot of better things in the net than (Montoya) can,” Gajic joked. “(I have better) overall goaltending prowess.”
As the competition begins to boil, Nystrom pointed to a piece of equipment he wears that makes him more of a goalie than Gajic.
“(Gajic) doesn’t wear the goalie skates, which is kind of cheap,” Nystrom said. “The goalie skates make it so much harder.”
But Gajic said he would wear the skates if called upon to prove he was the best choice at goal.
Freshman Kevin Porter, who is usually out on the ice at the end of practice when the seniors mind the crease, has scored plenty of goals on both his teammates. Without much hesitation, Porter pegged Gajic as the stronger of the two candidates between the pipes.
“(Nystrom’s) not as quick,” Porter said. “Gajic has got quick hands.”
For his part, Montoya said the offensive thunder hasn’t come because of a drastic change in his game. After going from two career assists to five in a manner of 15 days — Nystrom has three assists and Gajic has just one over the same period — the Wolverine junior merely tips his cap to the guys in front of him.
“I’ve been doing the same thing as long as I can play the puck,” Montoya said. “Sometimes you get (assists), sometimes you don’t.”
Even though the clock has almost run out on their goalie careers before it has even truly started, the imaginary competition for fourth-string goalie has helped Nystrom and Gajic gain an appreciation for what Montoya does behind them day in and day out.
“It’s hard,” Gajic said. “You don’t know when to go down, when to get up. It’s hard especially when guys are in front of you. You don’t know when they are going to tip it, whether they are going to tip it. … It’s really difficult.”
Montoya, Noah Ruden, Mike Mayhew, Gajic and Nystrom. Not a bad group to pick from.