When Joel Rumpel committed to Mike Eaves and the University of Wisconsin shortly after the Camp Randall outdoor hockey game in February of 2010, he was doing so with the knowledge that he would have a chance to step in and make an immediate contribution as a freshman.
At that time, the Badgers had two junior goaltenders who would be gone by the time Rumpel was ever to set foot on campus in Madison.
Eaves would go on to add another goaltender in the 2011 freshman class, Wisconsin native Landon Peterson from Alaska of the North American Hockey League.
But it was Rumpel who was the prized recruit. And despite the coaching staff making this an open competition between the two, it was always expected that Rumpel would be "the guy" at some point this season.
Twenty-two games into the current season, it's probably time to give Rumpel, a 20 year old freshman from Swift Current, Saskatchewan the keys to the car.
Based purely on stats, it's an easy call to make the decision to go to Rumpel. The nephew of former Wisconsin All-American goaltender Roy Schultz has put up numbers right on par with others manning the position around the WCHA.
Rumpel's .911 save percentage in league play (.915 overall) is fourth best in the WCHA among goaltenders that have played at least half of their teams contests.
But it's not necessarily fair to write off Peterson based on his numbers either. Peterson's save percentage of .883 in league play (.888 overall) is below average, but doesn't tell the whole story. Peterson has been the victim of multiple own goals with the puck bouncing off one of his own players and finding it's way into the net.
Additionally, Peterson's numbers are better than highly regarded Colorado College goaltender Joe Howe (.865), and 2011 third team All-WCHA net-minder John Faulkner from Nebraska-Omaha (.874).
But for whatever reason, the Badgers seem to play better in front of Rumpel. The two have split Wisconsin's losses right down the middle with five apiece. But Rumpel has a significant advantage in win percentage (.571% to .375%) due in part to his 9 wins (to Peterson's 4), and his two ties.
Admittedly not the best competition, but Rumpel's past three games have seen him give up a combined three goals. Rumpel gave up one goal on 22 shots two weeks ago against RIT. Last weekend in starting both games against Minnesota State, Rumpel stopped 65 of 67 shots.
Asked to asses Rumpel's play from the weekend, Eaves was very complimentary of his young Canadian net-minder.
"Very good. He only let two goals in all weekend. His percentage of stopping the puck was up. I thought his puck handling was very good," Eaves noted during his weekly press conference.
"The only disappointing goal was probably the first one, where I don't think he challenged enough. He kind of got screened and didn't fight his way to get out and find it. That's something we'll look at this week. But overall, he did a fine job for us. Gave us a chance to win both nights."
With only twelve games left in the current season, Wisconsin doesn't have much time left. Currently the Badgers are in a tough spot. They are in a tie for 9th place in the WCHA, and are 29th in the Pairwise, which is what the NCAA uses to select it's field of 16 for the NCAA tournament.
If the Badgers are to have any chance at giving it a run at this thing, they are most certainly going to have to acquire home ice for the first round of the WCHA playoffs. They are currently five points off the pace in that regard, meaning they are going to have to go on a run down the stretch in the final six series of the season.
In order to make that run they are going to need their best players on the ice as much as possible. And that means going to Rumpel full time between the pipes.
Eaves has used Rumpel both nights this season in only three series. He used him both nights against Minnesota, both nights against Minnesota-Duluth, and again last weekend against Minnesota State.
With two must win games coming up this weekend against 11th place Alaska-Anchorage, it would be ill-fated to expect anything less than Rumpel both nights.
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