Jerad Kaufmann is the last line of defense
for a Nebraska-Omaha team that’s in good position
to make the NCAA tournament.
And he’s just a walk-on.
Kaufmann was brought in by UNO's coaching
staff this year to be the third goalie. Even he thought
he might only get a spot start in an early exhibition
game then watch the rest of his freshman season from
the stands. That's what third goalies do, right?
Instead, Kaufmann is 12-7-4 with a 2.69
goals-against average and a .906 save percentage.
No other UNO goalie has played since December and
no one else has started since November.
“We had a big feeling out process
as a team in the first half as we were trying to settle
on a goalie,” UNO coach Mike Kemp said. “But
since (Kaufmann) has established himself, he’s
really played with a lot of confidence, and it’s
given the team a lot of confidence.”
Until late in the summer, Chris Holt
was entrenched in the Mavericks’ crease. He
had played just about every minute of the previous
two years and was slated to play just about every
minute of the next two. Eric Aarnio, a sophomore,
was his backup. Kaufmann was lured out of Fairbanks
of the NAHL to be the practice goalie.
Then Holt left for the pros, and the
staff filled his scholarship with freshman Greg Barrett.
Kemp told the three goalies that the starting job
was open and that whoever was best would “carry
the bacon.” Aarnio and Barrett combined to start
the team’s first five games, with fluctuating
results. Then Aarnio got hurt, Barrett struggled and
Kaufmann finally got a shot, at Bowling Green in early
The rest is recent history.
“He’s been a very pleasant
surprise,” Kemp said. “No question, he’s
done more than we expected him to do as a freshman.
The expectations and the results don’t match
up. He’s been much better.”
Kaufmann said he was all set to play
for Division III St. Norbert (Wis.) before UNO offered
him its No. 3 spot. That was all he wanted –
a chance at a D-I school, even if it meant being a
grunt during practices and a spectator during games.
“I thought I should at least give
myself a chance at Division I, because it had always
been a goal of mine to get to this level,” Kaufmann
said. “I wanted to see what I can do. The way
I looked at it was I could always go back to Division
III if I wanted.”
But that won’t be necessary. Kaufmann
has endeared himself to the Mavericks with his athleticism,
consistency and composure. UNO is bringing in another
goalie – that will be No. 4 – on scholarship
next year, but he’ll have to work to unseat
the incumbent. Kemp indicated that Kaufmann is on
track to earn a scholarship after this year. Things
are working out.
“I was talking to my junior coach,
and we were kind of saying how it’s been a dream
season for me,” Kaufmann said. “I’m
playing good and have a lot of confidence right now.
I just worked really hard because I knew I’d
get my chance.”
AND HEARD IN THE CCHA
With a month to go before his fourth postseason at
Michigan State, coach Rick Comley is feeling more
sure about his team than ever in East Lansing. MSU
is 8-2-2 in its last 12 heading into a tough finishing
kick against Ohio State, Miami and Lake Superior State.
Comley repeatedly praises his team’s depth and
balance as MSU tries to make just its second NCAA
tournament appearance of his tenure.
“We don’t have a (John-Michael)
Liles or even a (Jim) Slater, who were great players,
but we have better depth, better balance and better
goaltending than past years,” Comley said. “That’s
a philosophy I believe in. So, yes, I am more confident.”
Comley acknowledged that part of the
success can be attributed to having no holdovers left
from the Ron Mason era. But he understands that if
he is going to step out of Mason’s shadow –
a major task – he’ll have to win some
big games in the postseason.
“Obviously, you didn’t come
down here not to be successful,” Comley said.
“So, yes, you do (think about your legacy).
But no more than any other coach. It just would be
good to get over the hump.”
Favoring the new guy:
Lake Superior State junior Derek R. Smith didn’t
name names, but it’s easy to figure out at whom
he’s taking a dig here.
Asked about the Lakers’ improved
play under first-year head coach Jim Roque this season,
Smith said, “Everybody loves Coach Roque. He
doesn’t belittle us, and he treats us as men.
He lets us do what we want on offense. The past coach
wanted to play a dump-and-chase game, and it was tough
for a lot of guys to come in from juniors and try
to play that way.
“So it took a lot of the pressure
off with Coach Roque coming in. Everyone’s a
Great Weekend Getaway
Superior State at Michigan (Fri.-Sat.) Despite struggling as much as it has
in recent memory, the Wolverines are alone in
second place with a game in hand on third-place
Michigan State (heading into Thursday). Lake
Superior’s situation is dicier. The surprising
Lakers sit in coveted fourth place, but a poor
weekend in Ann Arbor would send them spinning
out of the bye zone. The bad news for LSSU is
that it’s just 4-6-3 away from Sault Ste.
Marie this season.
While you’re there:
With the Super Bowl having cleared out of southeastern
Michigan, hotel rooms shouldn’t be as
hard to come by as they were last weekend. The
Inn at the Michigan League ain’t cheap,
but it is conveniently located right on campus.
Plus, it’s situated on the fourth floor
of the historic U-M women students’ building,
so you can get yourself some culture.
Fairbanks picked up another nice win
last weekend, splitting with No. 1 Miami in
Oxford. Y’all must know by now that it
was UAF’s third win over a top-ranked
team this season – and third in school
history. The Nanooks also claimed the Governor’s
Cup from rival Alaska Anchorage for the fifth
straight season, meaning there’s been
plenty to cheer about in Alaska despite an overall
record that’s sagged below expectations
you, Connecticut. We know the
real hardware is handed out in the spring, but
the Commissioners’ Cup would have been
nice for the CCHA. Why couldn’t Yale have
played Mercyhurst or Holy Cross on Sunday? Things
could have been different, yo.
FRIES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE BAG
• High-scoring Western Michigan
forward Brent Walton has faced the opposition’s
top checking line and defensive pairing again and
again this year. And he’s noticed. “When
we line up for a faceoff, I always look for the defensemen,
which ones are out there,” Walton said. “I
try to be aware of what they’re good at, and
I try to see if it’s a guy I can beat one-on-one
or if I have to do something else. I know I’m
going to be going against the other team’s top
two D-men, and I enjoy it. I take it as a sign of
• The CCHA swept its nonconference
action last week, but it wasn’t enough to earn
the Commissioners’ Cup. Northern Michigan took
two from Wayne State while Bowling Green edged RIT
on Saturday. Yet when Yale beat Connecticut on Sunday,
it secured the ECACHL’s second straight Cup
title, by a point over the CCHA. Looking back, Bowling
Green’s early season home loss to Merrimack
was a killer.
Out of conference this weekend, Ohio
State plays its Lambeau Field game against Wisconsin
on Saturday, while Western Michigan hosts Bemidji
State on Friday and Saturday.
• Michigan State goalie Jeff Lerg
earned an honor with an incredibly long name, the
College Sports Television/Hockey Commissioners’
Association National Division I Rookie of the Month
award for January. Basically, Lerg’s 6-2-2 record,
1.67 goals-against average and .941 save percentage
made him the best freshman in the country last month.
But it couldn’t keep his best
friend, Notre Dame freshman Erik Condra, from scoring
on him during MSU’s 2-1 win Saturday. “He
just gets it and throws it to the net, I know his
game,” Lerg told the State News afterward. “I'll
be hearing about that one for the whole summer.”
• Injury report: Nebraska-Omaha
forward Tomas Klempa is out for at least one more
weekend with a broken wrist. However, the UNO staff
has been getting good news from its medical people,
and there’s a chance Klempa could return for
the Michigan series Feb. 17-18. ... Northern Michigan
expects forward Darin Olver to return to the lineup
against UNO this weekend after hurting his leg late
• The Michigan hockey team placed
third in the school’s Mock Rock competition
between 20 athletic squads on Feb. 1. Represented
by the 11-member freshman class, the hockey team wowed
the judges with a rendition of “cheer practice”
from Bring It On. Brandon Naurato served
as the cheer instructor. Tyler Swystun led the team
in dancing to Dem Franchise Boyz’s “White
Tee.” But the star of the show might have been
Jack Johnson channeling the spirit of Petey the trombone
player from American Pie 2. Only the men’s
track team and the marching band claimed bragging
rights over the hockey boys.
• RedHawk notes: Miami announced
that it will host the season-opening Ice Breaker tournament
in the brand-new Goggin Ice Center next year. Also
in the field are Denver (coached by former RedHawk
bench boss George Gwozdecky), Boston University and
Colgate. ... Miami became the last team in the nation
to allow more than three goals in a game this season,
giving up four in Friday’s loss to Alaska Fairbanks.
• Northern Michigan senior Dirk
Southern scored all three Wildcat goals in Friday’s
3-1 win over Wayne State.
• Alaska Fairbanks may be in the
bottom tier of the standings, but don’t count
out the Nanooks just yet. Their remaining three series
are against fellow bottom feeders Bowling Green (this
weekend), Western Michigan and Notre Dame. Four of
those six games are at home, too. If the Nanooks want
to make a late charge, they’d be wise to start
strong in each contest. UAF is 11-5-2 when scoring
first and 0-8-2 when not this season.
• Ohio State freshman Nick Biondo
scored on his first career shot Friday at Michigan.
The games in Ann Arbor were just the third and fourth
of his career.
A variety of sources were utilized
in the compilation of this report.