Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass hockey’s goalie threesome continues to battle for starting duties

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Erica Lowenkron/Collegian

Erica Lowenkron/Collegian

When Jonathan Quick signed with the Los Angeles Kings in 2007 forgoing his final two seasons of college hockey, he left the Massachusetts hockey team with a big hole to fill in net.

Almost a decade later, with a brand-new set of coaches leading a reenergized Minutemen hockey program, UMass is still looking for their next marquee goaltender in this year’s trio of Alex Wakaluk, Nic Renyard and Ryan Wischow.

Coming into this season, there was no clear-cut number one goaltender listed on the roster.

Renyard, who started the majority of games last season as a freshman, had an underwhelming season statistically following an exceptional junior hockey career.

After two seasons in the Alberta Junior Hockey league with the Okotoks Oilers, Renyard was named 2015 RBC CJHL National Junior A hockey player of the year, and received the 2015 CJHL top goaltender award as well. As a member of the Minutemen last year, Renyard posted a .898 save percentage and a 3.65 goals-against average, a stark contrast from his days as an Oiler.

Wakaluk never got a consistent routine going as he was bounced in and out of the starting role last season, earning a .862 save percentage and a 4.51 goals-against average in 10 games. Yet his teammates still valued his presence as they picked him to be part of the leadership group as an assistant captain for this year.

Wischow was a late addition to the roster as he was originally committed to St. Lawrence but decided to follow head coach Greg Carvel to Amherst once he was hired in the spring.

Playing in the United States Hockey League for the Fargo Force prior to this season, Wischow put up respectable numbers as he finished the year with a .917 save percentage and a 2.29 GAA.

Out of the three, Renyard looked to be the favorite to get the starting gig before the year, due to his game experience last season as well as his impressive junior pedigree, leaving Wakaluk and Wischow chasing him on the depth chart.

However, things seemed to have changed after the exhibition game against Dalhousie when Wakaluk and Renyard had tough showings and Wischow played well in the final period.

This translated over into the first game of the season when Wischow earned the nod in net against Colorado College, recording his first career shutout, however after a rough outing the next night, Renyard came in, and furthered the starting goalie confusion.

It seems as though this position will be a battle for the foreseeable future and assistant coach Jared DeMichiel believes any one of the three could step up and get the job done.

“All three of them are all really good kids and hard workers,” DeMichiel said. “I firmly feel that all three are very capable of taking the ball and running with it.”

DeMichiel primarily works with the goaltenders in practice, and over the two-week long break between games, he’s seemed to have gotten a good sense of what each player can bring to the table.

“(Wakaluk) is a really good leader who works really, really hard in practice. With him we’re just working on fighting through to find pucks and things like that,” DiMichiel said. “(Renyard) obviously is a returner who played a lot of minutes last year, and he’s played pretty well for us so far, and Wischow being a freshman started our first game against CC.”

Being in the unique situation where all three goalies have the potential to start at any given night, DeMichiel says forming a relationship with all three is critical in getting the best out of each of them.

“I try to spend as much time with them equally, on the ice or off the ice, doing little things whether it’s talking to them in the locker room, or talking to them in between drills,” DeMichiel said.

DeMichiel added: “Obviously they’re different kids and there are different ways to motivate all three of them. As a coach you just try to show them an equal amount of love, and find what buttons to push so they can be successful on the ice.”

DeMichiel also said that he looks for certain things like fire and competitiveness in practice, after the obvious factor of whether they’re stopping the puck, to help him determine who gets the start for the next game.

While DeMichiel admits that it would be nice if all three could play equally well every time they got an opportunity, he realizes that’s just not how goaltending battles play out anymore.

“If all three of them stop the puck when they get the opportunity we’ll be totally fine with that,” he said. “It just seems like in college hockey and in professional hockey usually somebody takes the ball and runs with it.”

At this point, there still isn’t a clear-cut favorite but DeMichiel thinks Wischow and Renyard have the upper-edge at this point in the year.

“We feel like Ryan and Nick have maybe created a little bit of separation and the two of them are kind of duking it out right now. Both of them are goalies with good size, good athleticism, and we’re just hoping one of them steps up and takes the bull by the horns,” DeMichiel said.

It’s clear that whoever ends up winning starting nod will have two others waiting in the wings constantly pushing them to maintain their status atop the depth chart.

Wakaluk Wears the Jersey

Wakaluk has been through a lot as a senior at UMass.

His time as a Minuteman hasn’t been the most successful being a part of three consecutive losing seasons, however that hasn’t stopped the Bellevue, Alberta native from having a positive outlook towards this season.

“We talked about how before the season our goal as a team was we just wanted to see us leave the jersey in a better place than it was before we started this year,” Wakaluk said. “Every single day we’re trying get better, trying to do things differently and change the culture around the team.”

Wakaluk’s first two years in Amherst weren’t too taxing as he only played in five total games, but his hard work paid off last season when he started a career-high seven games, earning his first career win against Army in a 22-save effort.

He’s also a star in the classroom as he’s been named to the Hockey East All-Academic team every season he’s been a member of the Minutemen.

This year’s goalie battle has transpired into a lively competition Wakaluk feels is necessary for every college team to have.

“I mean in the past three years, there’s always been a battle for the number one starting goalie and that’s the way it should be in college anyways,” Wakaluk said. “The best goalie, or whatever goalie gives the team the best chance to win is going to play so it’s always healthy to have a little competition between the goalies.”

Being a senior assistant captain, Wakaluk understands that his role on the team is one that pertains more to leadership than his play on the ice, and he has taken it on full-stride so far.

“The guys think I’m a good leader, and I’m incredibly honored for them to think that about me, so I guess the weight is a little bit on my shoulders a tiny bit to make sure everybody is doing the things they need to do to get better every single day we’re out here,” Wakaluk said.

“It’s been great so far this year,” Wakaluk added regarding the atmosphere in practice among the three goalies during this battle. “I feel like every single practice we go out there and we see the team getting better, we see us as goalies getting better and that’s what we’re pushing for as a team right now.”

Wakaluk won’t get to experience the full rebirth of this UMass hockey program since he graduates this spring, yet despite that, his main goal for this season is to help shape a winning culture of hockey in Amherst.

“You always want to do well personally, but to me what would make me the happiest is seeing our team grow,” Wakaluk said.

While Wakaluk might not be the most important figure on the ice for the Minutemen, it’s clear his off-ice leadership, and guidance will be key as UMass starts its rebuild in this new era of Minuteman hockey.

Ryan Ames can be reached at [email protected], and followed on Twitter @_RyanAmes.

About the Writer
Ryan Ames, Assistant Sports Editor
The Minutewomen overcame an early 5-0 deficit in first 10 minutes to earn the victory on Senior Day.
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