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Brad E. Schlossman / Forum News Service , Published January 22 2014

UND goalie Gothberg sidelined with lower-body injury

GRAND FORKS – The University of North Dakota will turn to Clarke Saunders to try to keep its nine-game unbeaten streak intact.

Starting goaltender Zane Gothberg sustained a lower-body injury late in practice Tuesday and will be out indefinitely.

UND coach Dave Hakstol said that he won’t even be able to have a timeline on Gothberg’s return date for another week or two. The Thief River Falls, Minn., product did not practice Wednesday.

Gothberg has started all nine games of UND’s current unbeaten streak, going 8-0-1 with a .923 save percentage and a 1.76 goals-against average – best among all National Collegiate Hockey Conference goaltenders in that span.

But now it’s Saunders’ turn.

On Friday in Denver, the senior goaltender will start his first game since Nov. 29, a 5-2 home loss against St. Lawrence.

“He’ll have to get back to game speed real quick,” Hakstol said. “Clarke went through some real ups and downs just before Christmas in his performance in practice. The bright side of that is that he’s practiced extremely well the last couple weeks. He’s back. He’s settled. He’s competing. He’s been very good at practice.

“Now, he has to transition that into game action. Guys have to work hard in front of him, and he’s got to work hard for the guys playing in front of him. I think that will happen.”

Saunders has started six games this season and has been up and down. He was pulled in two of his six starts, but he also helped UND steal back-to-back wins against Nebraska-Omaha and Minnesota-Duluth in games that UND was outshot by 10-plus.

For the season, Saunders is 2-2 with a .900 save percentage and a 3.60 goals-against average.

“We’re obviously comfortable with him,” defenseman Nick Mattson said. “It’s one of those things where Zane has been playing so good that you just can’t take him out. But Clarke is unbelievable, too. So, it’s something we’re not even going to think about. We have all the confidence in him.”

One factor that should benefit Saunders: UND is playing much better in front of its goaltender right now than it was the last time Saunders was in net.

From the start of the season to Nov. 29 – the last time Saunders played a game – UND was allowing an average of 33 shots against per game. During its current nine-game unbeaten streak, UND is allowing just 23 shots against per game.

“I thought we had a blip on the radar Saturday against CC,” Hakstol said. “I didn’t think we were very good without the puck. But overall, we’re doing a better job. That’s an area we continue to work very hard at as we keep getting better as a team.”

Saunders started the majority of games for UND last season – 25 of 42 – posting a .917 save percentage and a 2.30 goals-against average.

His starts included games in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs, the Final Five and the NCAA regional final. So, his teammates say they are completely comfortable with Saunders coming in.

Freshman Matt Hrynkiw will serve as the backup.

“I think we feel great about it,” Mark MacMillan said. “Clarke is a great goalie. His practices lately have been some of the best of his career at UND. He’s been great. He’s probably deserved a shot to go in, but Zane has been playing great. That’s the great thing about having two great goalies. One goes down, it doesn’t change anything for us. We turn the page. We’re going to be good with Clarke in there.”

Schlossman writes for the Grand Forks Herald