Zane Gothberg (North Dakota) is having a good season.
But how good? As in having one of the Force’s all-time, record-breaking good seasons?
It appears that way.
“I know my work ethic is getting there,” Gothberg said. “It’s been good this year, it has been good in past years. Everything is going to translate on the ice away from the rink.”
Gothberg is 24-14-4 with a 2.29 goals against average, a .919 save percentage and six shutouts. Gothberg is third in wins, second in GAA, second in save percentage and leads the league in shutouts.
Keep in mind, he has done this after the Force opened the season losing 13 of its first 15 games.
Gothberg’s managed to work his way into the discussion for the USHL’s Goaltender of the Year award and perhaps even being the Force’s Most Valuable Player.
Though what has also come into question is where does Gothberg stand in terms of the franchise’s all-time greats?
Albeit four seasons, enough time has passed for the comparisons to begin and Gothberg’s numbers do stand against those of Ryan Massa, now at Nebraska-Omaha, and Mike Lee, who is now at St. Cloud State.
“You do come in here with a chip on your shoulder because there is something to prove,” Gothberg said. “There’s Lee, there’s Massa, the guys you named are some of the greats to come through here. It has been an organization that has been known for its goalies.”
Lee, in his lone season, went 26-15-4 with a 2.40 GAA and a .918 save percentage. Massa, who played two seasons in Fargo, won 19 games in each season though last season was his strongest statistical campaign. He had a 2.37 GAA and a .908 save percentage.
The Force have six games left before the playoffs begin. Gothberg is three wins away from having the most wins in a season by a goaltender with 27. If he gets one more win, he’ll have the most wins by a goaltender in a career. He’s currently tied with with Massa for first all-time with 38 wins.
Gothberg, last season, set the franchise record for best GAA in a season with a 2.23 clip in 23 games as Massa’s backup. Yet as a full-time starter he has a 2.29 GAA and barring a massive collapse over the next few weeks will walk away as the franchise’s leader in best GAA in a career at 2.27.
Yet there is something Gothberg hasn’t done.
Lee and Massa led the Force to the Clark Cup Finals with Massa doing it in his first season. Taking the Force to the Clark Cup Finals would add to everything Gothberg has done.
Winning it, however, would further solidify the changes he’s made over the last few seasons.
“We’re just taking things a game at a time,” Gothberg said. “Success is a team sport, hockey is a team sport and you can only do so much without your teammates.”
His teammates have taken notice.
Force captain Brian Cooper (Nebraska-Omaha) said in the team’s 2-0 win over Des Moines on Friday, they gave up a “lot” of odd-man rushes and Gothberg handled every odd-man rush to keep the Force in the game.
The biggest change from last season, Cooper said, has been Gothberg’s side-to-side movement.
“It has been incredibly sick,” Cooper said about Gothberg’s movement. “You see how well he’s doing and you know he’s going to make a big impact at the next level.”
Cooper isn’t the only one who believes that.
Force coach John Marks said he believes Gothberg will be North Dakota’s starting goaltender by Christmas for the next season.
Compliments coupled with how he’s viewed within the organization shows how close the team has become over the season, Gothberg said.
“Our team has meshed and gelled together really well,” Gothberg said. “We get to the rink and joke around but when we get on the ice, we get to business. We do things away from the ice. We go to Qdoba, grab a bite to eat or last week we had a cookout. Everybody has been pulling on the same chain.”
Gothberg, 19, has said on multiple occasions last season was one of the most trying times of his life both on and off the ice. He was playing behind Massa, who is now at Nebraska-Omaha, and it was the first time he had really been the second choice.
His high school coach, Tim Berglund, said at last season’s Minnesota state hockey tournament that dealing with the adversity of playing behind Massa was “good” because Gothberg never had to deal with it before.
Then came everything that happened off the ice. Gothberg lost his grandmother over the summer to various illnesses. He’d often visit her in the hospital during the season and there were times it visibly wore on him.
“It is about maturing as a person and as a player,” Gothberg said. “Biggest thing has been doing work off the ice. Preparing mentally by doing yoga. It’s about keeping your body tuned for the end of the season.”