March 30, 2010
Duluth Denfeld goaltender No. 1 on Hub's top freshmen list
By Loren Nelson
Freshman standouts are a rarity in Minnesota boys
high school hockey.
Freshman goaltenders? Forget about it.
Typically, there’s just not a lot of payoff
in plugging a 14- or 15-year-old in the game’s most crucial
position, then waiting for bigger, stronger, more mature players
to exploit the kid’s every weakness.
Wise coaches know all too well that a young goaltender
can get lit up like so much Vegas neon, the scars of the experience
lingering like the smell of overripe equipment.
As such, less than a handful of the state’s
150-plus teams used freshmen as their primary goaltenders last season.
All of which makes the Zach Thompson Story as
unexpected as it was amazing.
Entering last season, Duluth Denfeld coach Kevin Smalley knew he
had a great young talent in Thompson, a freshman goaltender who
had spent the previous two summers working with Minnesota Wild goaltenders
coach Bob Mason.
Not even Smalley would have imagined Thompson
would become his workhorse in net or post the kind of numbers (2.32
goals-against average, .921 save percentage) goaltenders four years
Thompson’s senior would drool over.
“He’s about as calm as you would ever
want to see,” Smalley said about Thompson. “Nothing
really frazzles him out there.”
An early-season injury to sophomore goaltender
Christian Coffman allowed for Thompson’s trial-by-fire initiation
to varsity hockey. It would turn out that opposing shooters were
the players most likely to end up with bruised egos.
“He’s the real deal, that’s
for sure,” Hermantown coach Bruce Plante said about Thompson,
who almost served as a one-man roadblock to the Hawks’ trip
to the state Class A tournament.
The 6-foot-1, 160-pound Thompson made 45 saves
in the Hunters’ 3-2 loss to the heavily favored Hawks in the
Section 5A championship game. Hermantown went on to reach the Class
A championship game.
“That just shows that a hot goalie can make
all the difference,” said Andover co-head coach Mark Manney,
whose high-scoring Huskies managed only a 3-2 victory over Denfeld
and Thompson early in the regular season.
“I didn’t really know what was going
to happen,” Thompson said about his expectations heading into
last season, which ended with the thrilling loss to Hermantown in
front of a huge crowd in Cloquet. “It was a blast. The only
thing that could have been better is if we could have made it to
Thompson, who posted three straight shutouts in
a late-December through early-January stretch of games, was so dominant
that he not only tops the Hub’s list of 2009-10 freshmen,
he also caught the attention of USA Hockey National Team Development
Program coaches. Thompson was invited to attend the program’s
evaluation camp that concluded on March 30. He declined.
“It took me a couple of days to figure out
what I wanted to do,” said Thompson, whose twin brother, Alex,
is a Denfeld forward. “I kind of realized I wanted to stick
around and play with my buddies. There are a couple of them out
in the driveway right now.”
Among Zach and Alex Thompson’s best friends
is Levi Talarico, a freshman who scored a team-high 37 points for
the Hunters last season. The return of the Thompsons and Talarico
as well as an influx of players from a Duluth Central program that
shut down after the season should make for a formidable Denfeld
team that will move up to Class AA.
Zach Thompson said he plans to prepare for his
sophomore season by making his usual appearance at the Roloson Mason
goalie camp in Minneapolis in late June and playing “wherever
I can, whenever I can.”