Despite battling two injuries this season in the North American Hockey League, goaltender Brock Kautz was in net when his team won the league championship.
Now, the Rochester native will aim to bring home more hardware to Mariucci Arena.
Kautz announced his commitment to Minnesota on May 28, making him the fourth goalie set for the team’s 2015-16 roster. He’s alongside senior Ryan Coyne, sophomore Nick Lehr and fellow freshman Eric Schierhorn.
“We’ll probably rotate some games early,” Minnesota head coach Don Lucia said. “Then, if somebody starts to step forward right away, we’ll give them an opportunity to run with it.”
Coming off a successful final run in junior hockey, Kautz hopes to take advantage of the competition to replace former Gophers starting goaltender Adam Wilcox
Kautz played the past season with the Minnesota Wilderness in the NAHL, winning the Robertson Cup championship after recording a shutout in the championship game.
Kautz boasted a .944 save percentage during the playoffs and was named the Robertson Cup Most Valuable Player. Throughout the rest of the season, Kautz achieved a .906 save percentage in 23 games played.
Kautz hit his stride at the end of the season; the earlier games didn’t run as smooth. He started training camp with a groin injury.
“He had an interesting season,” said Corey Millen, Wilderness head coach and former Minnesota player. “It took him a few weeks during the season to get his legs under him again, but once he did that, he played very well for us.”
But Kautz’s struggles didn’t stop there. Later in the season, he suffered an ankle injury.
However, he said his time away from the ice gave him the opportunity to think about his game.
“You realize what you need to work on,” Kautz said.
Despite the rocky points, Kautz remained determined to play college hockey. As a fifth-year junior player, he made the goal to keep playing during his final season.
“I was impressed with the way he responded to that,” Millen said. “It’s a big deal for a goalie to win a championship because it shows coaches they have the mental capacity to do that.”
Kautz played with Minnesota associate head coach Mike Guentzel’s son growing up, which allowed the Gophers coaching staff to get a good feel for the goaltender.
“I like the fact that he’s old, and he’s played a number of years in junior hockey,” Lucia said.
Kautz said each year in the NAHL taught him something new about himself or the game, and age is just a number to the goaltender, who will be 21 when his freshman year begins.
“I might be older than some of the freshmen, I might even be older than some of the upperclassmen,” Kautz said. “But you’ve got to give respect to the older guys that have been there and worked hard. If you earn that respect and be a good teammate, I think that’s the most important part of playing hockey.”
Though the competition to play in net will be tough, Millen thinks Kautz will bring important attributes to the team.
“His character is A-plus, and his work ethic is second to none,” Millen said. “I think the season he’s come off of and the adversity he’s faced will get him ready to play and perform.”
Ben Gotz contributed to this report.