Replacing an All-American who practically carried a No. 7 seed to a league championship and NCAA berth wasn't going to be easy.
And Kenny Reiter wasn't expected to be the guy carrying the torch.
Indeed he was, though. Reiter, of Pittsburgh, came in to UMD out of the North American Hockey League -- regarded as the second-best junior league in the country behind the USHL -- and he sat for his first two years, including a freshman season where he took a redshirt.
Reiter didn't play until the opening weekend of the 2009-2010 season, when the sophomore lost his first career start to Northern Michigan. He didn't see action against a WCHA opponent until he took over for Brady Hjelle for the third period of a loss to St. Cloud State two weeks later, and he didn't win a WCHA game until UMD won at Colorado College on Nov. 6.
He picked it up from there. Eventually, Reiter outperformed Hjelle enough to start UMD's home playoff series against Colorado College that year. He then performed exceptionally well in a 2-0 loss to North Dakota at the Final Five that ended UMD's season.
Reiter traded off with then-freshman Aaron Crandall for much of the 2010-11 season, but had the job pretty well secured by February. He was a key cog in UMD's national championship run, playing notably well in a shutout win over Union to open the NCAA Tournament, and then in the title game win over Michigan.
As a senior, Reiter played in 38 of 41 UMD games, going 23-9-6 with a 2.43 goals against and .911 save percentage. Reiter posted a 2.37 goals against and .912 save percentage in his UMD career, winning 52 games and pitching nine shutouts to tie Stalock's career record.
Alas, Reiter's eligibility is exhausted, and he's playing pro hockey.
It leaves UMD with a question mark in goal, but it's a question mark junior Aaron Crandall hopes to answer. Crandall played a bunch in his freshman year, basically alternating with Reiter while both struggled to win the job full time until we were in the month of February. Reiter ran with the proverbial ball, UMD won its first-ever national championship, and the rest was history.
Crandall appeared in just four games last year, starting three. He performed very well in one fill-in appearance, during the January rear end-kicking delivered by Michigan Tech. He had a .917 save percentage against WCHA foes, but it was only .855 for the season, largely because of a rough start in the opening weekend against Notre Dame.
I expect Crandall to start at least once on opening weekend against Ohio State, perhaps in Friday's opener.
Joining Crandall are freshman Matt McNeely and Alex Fons, who spent half a season at Minnesota before returning to the NAHL last year. He didn't play at Minnesota, and is officially a freshman at UMD.
Head coach Scott Sandelin has a competition on his hands. McNeely was highly-touted out of the U.S. Under 18 program, but "only" had an .892 save percentage last season in the USHL with Cedar Rapids. Fons had a great season with Fairbanks, winning 21 games and posting a 2.33 goals against and .907 save percentage.
The development of the youngsters will be a huge key. Goalies don't always end up committing early to colleges -- and many of the ones that don't still end up having nice careers -- but it's worth noting that UMD doesn't have a single goalie committed in a future class (not 2013, 2014, or beyond).
Sandelin has a strong three-man competition, and he will make the most of it. Barring unforeseen circumstances early in the season, it wouldn't be at all surprising to see all three goalies play at some point.
That doesn't mean the goaltending won't be good. Sandelin noted at times last year that it wasn't quite as good as he'd like it to be, and that will probably happen again.
However, there is reason for hope that McCrandons will have plenty of help from the guys in front of the chosen goaltender on a particular night. If that happens, the peripheral numbers might improve, even if the overall play from the position isn't remarkably better.