With four weeks left, it’s becoming clearer who the front runners are for postseason awards.
But what about the Goaltender of the Year award? It isn’t like Forward of the Year where we’ve seen Lincoln’s Kevin Roy (Brown) dominate the league and have a legitimate chance at scoring 100 points in a season.
And as we saw yesterday, it isn’t like Defenseman of the Year where it’s been a two-man race all year. We’ve seen multiple goaltenders who could lay claim to being the league’s best this season.
Now it’s time to find out, who might have the best chance of walking away as goaltender of the year.
-Adam Wilcox, Tri-City (Minnesota): Tri-City hasn’t officially clinched a playoff spot. Though it still hasn’t stopped some coaches from thinking what would happened if they were to face Wilcox and the Storm in a three-game series. Force coach John Marks admitted a few weeks ago, he’s already thought about it. Wilcox, who was acquired in a trade with Green Bay, has turned Tri-City into a team who could walk away with stealing a first-round series. Wilcox is 16-16 with Tri-City but altogether is 23-18 with a 2.76 GAA and a .916 save percentage. Wilcox has had to make up for his team suffering injuries on the blue line along with a change in philosophy once coach Josh Hauge was hired. We’ve already listed Wilcox as an MVP candidate because what he’s done has been valuable. If its not for him, Tri-City might not be in the running for a playoff spot. With him, however, they’re are in the running for stealing at least one series and maybe more.
-Jon Gillies, Indiana: Gillies has made Indiana more than just an offensively-gifted team with the way he’s played. He’s used his hulking 6-5, 215-pound frame be a durable wall which has withstood the season. Gillies is second in the league in minutes played and leads the league with 28 wins. He’s first in saves, third in save percentage and eighth in GAA. The East has been a three-team race for second place and Indiana holds the edge by three points with two weekends left. How Indiana does over the next month will largely depend upon how Gillies is playing. Like Wilcox, he’s been an MVP candidate earlier in the season. All Gillies has done this season is become one of the league’s premier netminders, pose a realistic threat to Green Bay and boost his stock for this summer’s upcoming NHL Draft. That’s not a bad year by any means.
-Ryan McKay, Green Bay (Miami (Ohio)): McKay, once again, is putting up the kind of numbers that can’t be ignored. He’s 25-4-3 with a 2.21 GAA, and a .921 save percentage for what is statistically the USHL’s best defense. He leads the league in GAA, he’s tied for first in save percentage, he’s tied for third in wins and is the only goaltender in the league with at least 30 starts to give up 70 or fewer goals. McKay has three seasons of 14 or more wins. If he wins his next start, it will be a career-high in wins. McKay’s numbers have always been solid and the results (one Clark Cup title and a Clark Cup appearance last season) cannot be debated. It appears he’s on route to lead Green Bay back to another Clark Cup appearance. Yet the question remains. In a year where we’ve seen so many good goaltenders, does McKay finally get his due?
-Matthew O’Connor, Youngstown (Boston University): So many things have gone well for Youngstown this season. The Phantoms have one of the league’s best No. 1 line combinations, a promising young coach in Anthony Noreen and a goaltender like O’Connor. O’Connor, compared to how he started, has cooled off a bit but still has Youngstown in a nice position heading into the playoffs. No goaltender has played more than O’Connor who has logged 2,778 minutes. His 27 wins are second in the league and he is second in the league in saves. O’Connor’s season comes when McKay is putting up record-setting numbers and Gillies is showing what the hype is all about. What O’Connor has done isn’t forgotten, but to a degree, it has been overshadowed. Though if Youngstown can have a strong playoff run, maybe he gets more limelight.
-Zane Gothberg, Fargo (North Dakota): Where do we start? Is the league-leading seven shutouts? Is it that he has as many franchise records as he does shutouts? Is it the fact he’s tied with McKay for first place in the league in save percentage (.921) or his 25 wins are tied for third? Or could it be his 2.23 GAA is the second-lowest in the league or is it that among league goalies with at least 40 starts he has given up 98 goals, which is the fewest amount for those who qualify for that category? Gothberg came into this season with questions regarding if he could handle being a No. 1 in the USHL. He’s certainly answered those questions and has helped his team overcome a torrid start where they lost 13 of their first 15 games. Since then, Gothberg has lost nine times since January showing he’s going to be tough down the stretch. He’s statistically been the best goaltender in the Western Conference. He’s arguably has the strongest stats of any goaltender in the entire league when looking at his overall workload. Will it be enough for him to win the league’s Goaltender of the Year award?
VERDICT: This really is a tough one to answer. If we narrowed it down to three guys, McKay, Wilcox and Gothberg would all advance. McKay advances because his consistency cannot be argued. Wilcox because he means more to his team than anyone else on this list. Gothberg because he’s been the backbone of a team which started slow but has really come on since January to be a postseason threat. Take Gothberg away from this for a second. Remember, Wilcox and McKay were actually a two-man tandem for last season and part of this year. McKay is the reason why Green Bay could free up Wilcox for a trade. So you have to ask, who is better in this case? Gamblers management went with McKay over Wilcox. We are going to risk drawing their ire by saying that for the purposes of this discussion, we take Wilcox because he has less to work with compared to McKay and has made Tri-City a dangerous proposition in a three-game series. Now as for Gothberg and Wilcox, that’s another tough one. Even head-to-head, they’re tied at 3-3 this season. We’re going to risk drawing more ire. This time from the Force because what you have to ask is this. Could the Force make the playoffs without Gothberg? It could be dicey but, yes. Could the Storm make the playoffs without Wilcox? No. That’s enough for us to say Adam Wilcox is our frontrunner for who will win the USHL’s Goaltender of the Year.
NEXT: Rookie of the Year