By Kirk Luedeke
Fargo Force goaltender Zane Gothberg is enjoying the season as a No. 1 netminder in the USHL.
The Boston Bruins prospect and sixth-round choice in 2010 is a developmental project, but is on the path to what he hopes is a future NHL career. However, the Thief River Falls, Minn. native is in no hurry. He’s done his homework on the B’s and understands that he is under no pressure to make the team anytime soon.
“Tim Thomas had to take the long road, so there’s some value in taking time and developing my game,” Gothberg told New England Hockey Journal recently. “Sometimes you have your good days and there are some bad days, but it’s all about rolling with the tide, trying to stay consistent and learning from every opportunity I have to play.”
At 19, Gothberg is in his second USHL campaign after the B’s took the Frank Brimsek Award winner as Minnesota’s top high school goalie with the 165th overall selection. He will be in Grand Forks, N.D. a year from now, attending the University of North Dakota and carrying on the proud Fighting Sioux tradition in the WCHA. For the time being, he’s dealing with the different pressure of playing more games as the struggling Force’s top goalie. In 12 games, Gothberg has a 3-7-2 record, 2.73 GAA and .908 save percentage with one shutout. Last season, he backed up University of Nebraska-Omaha freshman Ryan Massa in Fargo, playing 23 games the entire season.
“I just want to give my team a chance to win every night,” he said. “It’s a little different this year: I’ve had to learn how to play on back-to-back nights in terms of preparation, focus and conserving my energy. It’s good to get into a rhythm not only for this season, but next year as well. It’s all about preparation: practicing the right way, having the right pre-game meal, getting the routines down and bringing my best effort.”
Gothberg had a chance to test himself against top competition as a member of Team USA’s squad at the World Jr. A Challenge. Comprised mostly of players out of the USHL, he and his mates dropped a heart-breaking loss in the tournament’s opening game against Sweden, losing 1-0 on a flukey goal that snuck past Gothberg with just six seconds left in regulation.
“That first game against Sweden was a tough way to go,” Gothberg said of going head-to-head with Swedish netminder Oscar Dansk, who looks like a potential top-60 selection in the June NHL draft. “It got my blood boiling for a rematch with those guys, and we got it in the third-place game. It was nice to be able to get the edge the second time and come away with the bronze medal.”
After winning gold a year ago, the bronze was perhaps a little disappointing for Gothberg, but he made a point of talking about what an honor it is to represent the United States, no matter the situation or the outcome.
“It’s been a tremendous honor,” he said of the chance to play in his second consecutive Jr. A challenge as well as the 2009 Ivan Hlinka tournament. “It’s almost more humbling than anything to be at a tournament and be able to put on that USA sweater. I always dreamed of winning a Stanley Cup, but the second thing for me has always been to represent my country in any situation, whether it’s the Olympics or some of the competitions I’ve had the honor and privilege of playing in.”
The 6-foot-1, 190-pound Gothberg credited the high-level competition he’s faced internationally with helping him to come to grips with the kind of challenge he’s up against in fulfilling his NHL dream someday.
“Whether you’re playing the Swedes, with their good puck control or the Finns, who tend to play more of a trap, or the hard-nosed Russians, you have to bring your best,” he said. “It’s great to deal with the physical and mental pressures those teams throw at you, and I’ve been fortunate enough to have some opportunities to test myself against some really good players in the past couple of years.”
An additional source of confidence for Gothberg has been his exposure to his fellow Boston prospects at the past two team development camps since being drafted. In 2010, he came to Wilmington fresh out of high school and didn’t look out of place, showing off his athleticism and instinctive, battling style reminiscent of B’s superstar Thomas.
“It’s a tremendous honor,” he said of his time in Boston, getting to know the management, coaches and his fellow Bruins hopefuls. “It’s a stepping stone and your eyes get opened up. You quickly realize how competitive it is. It’s an honor being with those guys, both on the ice and off, where you get to know them and we’ve had the chance to do some pretty cool team-building events together. It’s something that helps you to envision what to expect at the (main) training camps and gives you an idea of where you need to be physically, mentally and maturity-wise to be ready to compete.”
Gothberg chuckled when asked about the feeling of stopping some of Boston’s higher-end guys in some key scoring situations, including a memorable glove theft of Brian Ferlin on a breakaway during the team’s first scrimmage.
“Ever since I was a kid, my grams put me in my place,” he said. “My mom put me in my place. They never let me get cocky about things, no matter how well I played, so I don’t think about it too much. It’s nice to play with some of the big dogs in the OHL (and other leagues)– it’s nice to have that experience and I think competition like that brings out the best in people. At the same time, you haven’t really proved anything in that situation, so while it’s a nice experience, it just reminds me of how much work I have to do.”
As Gothberg continues that work and development in Fargo, his efforts this season are tempered with a heavy heart. His grandmother, Susan McIntyre, passed away in early July after battling a multitude of serious health problems going back to last January.
Although he’d just his rock and a major source of inspiration, Zane never let on about it at Bruins development camp, just days after her passing on Independence Day. “Grandma Susie” was always there to support Zane and his sister, Jade, who was also a goaltender, playing for Thief River Falls high’s varsity girls team and Zane feels that she’s still watching over him.
This season, Gothberg is playing with a new mask and paint design, featuring a caricature of his grandmother on the backplate, with her trademark frizzy hair, a cigarette in her mouth and Diet Coke in hand. (Ryan S. Clark who does a great job of covering the USHL and the Force has a detailed account of the mask here.)
“She’s in a better place,” Gothberg said. “That always puts a smile on my face when I think about that and realize that she’s still watching me play and has my back like she always did.”
Gothberg is proving to a lot of people that he’s worth watching.