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Net gains: A look at the plan for ASU’s remade goalie group

Craig Morgan Avatar
September 14, 2022

Greg Powers pulled no punches when assessing his 2021-22 team’s biggest weakness; the one that led to a mediocre 17-17-1 record.

“There were more reasons than just goaltending, but the clear problem of our team last year was that we couldn’t keep the puck out of our net,” Arizona State’s coach said. “We had to score four goals to win a game. When you have to do that and you win 17 games it’s pretty good, but that’s not a sustainable way to get to an NCAA tournament.”

Powers is a former goaltender so he has a keen understanding of that position’s duties and its importance to a team’s success. The goaltending didn’t get the job done last season so he set about revamping the depth chart this offseason.

First, the staff came to a mutual understanding with Cole Brady — once viewed as the future of the program — that it was time to move on, so Brady transferred to UMass. 

While he liked the way that Ben Kraws finished the season after taking over for Brady, Powers knew that he still needed more help at the position so he lured widely pursued Northeastern goalie TJ Semptimphelter, now a sophomore, out of the transfer portal, and he signed freshman Gibson Homer, who spent two seasons with the United States National Team Development Program and one with the Chicago Steel, arguably the top program in the USHL.

The changes made Powers’ volunteer coach and former NHL goalie, Eddie Läck, both happy and sad.

“This is like the first year that I feel like we have three really solid goalies which is great for the team, but that part sucks for me because we can only have one that plays and I need to keep all three of them happy,” Läck said, laughing. “I look forward to that challenge, but I almost wish that we had two good ones and one guy that was just happy to be here.”

TJ Semptimphelter played four years at The Lawrenceville School in New Jersey before choosing to play at Northeastern. (Boston Herald)

In terms of extremes, the Sun Devils could not have chosen a better program to raid. Northeastern finished with the NCAA’s top team save percentage last season; a gaudy .945. Much of that was due to Devon Levi, a 2020 Florida Panthers draft pick who led the nation in save percentage (.952) while finishing third in goals against average (1.54). But when Levi left the program for about a month to play for Canada at the Beijing Olympics, Semptimphelter got his chance.

Of all places, his collegiate debut came at The Beanpot, a famed tournament that pits the Boston area’s four major universities — Northeastern, Harvard, Boston College and Boston University — against each other at TD Garden in an event that dates back to 1952.

Semptimphelter made 41 saves in a 3-1 win against BC in the Beanpot semifinals, and 27 saves in a 1-0 loss to BU in the Beanpot final. Overall in those eight games, he finished with a 2.05 GAA and a .934 save percentage.

“The whole world that follows college hockey watches the Beanpot and his first starts were there in front of 17,000 people with really good competition and he just stole the show,” Powers said. “For him to go in and make those his first college starts in that environment with that kind of pressure and that kind of exposure; it was really impressive. Everybody in college hockey, including me, was like, ‘Who is this kid?’

That was enough to put Powers in hot pursuit.

“Everybody knows the best goalie in college hockey is Devon Levi, but with that eight-game stretch that TJ was able to put together while Levi was at the Olympics, once he went into the portal, everybody wanted him,” Powers said. “TJ is just the prototypical college goalie; really athletic, a big team guy, always smiling, fun to be around and plays the puck really well. He’s a lot like [former Sun Devil] Joey Daccord.”

Semptimphelter thought that Levi might turn pro after last season, but his net-mate and friend approached him early in the offseason to give him a heads up.

“He kind of pulled me aside before it was public,” Semptimphelter said. “He was like, ‘Listen, TJ, I decided to come back another year. I don’t know what your plan is, but I just wanted to let you know that I went and I met with the coaching staff and I’m staying.’

“I really appreciated that. We were super close, but ultimately, I decided that I was ready to go and seek an opportunity elsewhere. I found out while I was playing that winning in college hockey is just infectious. Once you get the first win under your belt, you just want to get the next one so going into the next year, I just knew that I wanted to be somewhere where I could have a chance to play and give myself the best opportunity to be with a program that I could help win.”

Ben Kraws played two seasons at Miami (Ohio) before transferring to ASU. (Peter Vander Stoep/Sun Devil Athletics)

Semptimphelter’s greatest competition will come from Kraws, who allowed six goals on 124 shots (.952 save percentage) over his last four starts in 2021-22. The surge followed some late-season tweaks to his stance and technique by Läck.

“It was tweaking my posture and my stance to maximize my coverage with how tall I am; really to take up a majority of the net,” Kraws, a senior, said. “I think that was a huge part of my success towards the end of the year when Eddie helped me make that change.”

Läck explained.

“We were working on positioning of the body; positioning of the pelvis,” he said. “A lot of goalies lean over a ton. When you lean over, you kind of turn off the big muscles in your body that you use to push from side to side because you’re just leaning on your hips and you’re turning off your abductors and glutes and depending on leg strength and back strength. When I say tuck the pelvis, I want everything to work together, instead of having everything work separately.

“I almost wish that I had tweaked it a little bit earlier, but you’re in the middle of the season and you don’t really know how a guy is going to react to big changes like that mid-season so we really only did it when we were eliminated from the [NCAAs].”

As the third goalie in the mix as an 18-year-old freshman, Homer understands that he is battling against two goalies with superior experience. Powers describes Homer as “a huge, but raw specimen with a lot of potential.” Läck said Homer reminds him of NHL goalie Ben Bishop.

“I’m gonna have to earn everything and I understand that, but hopefully I can,” Homer said. “I’m not really expecting anything, but I feel like all the goalies on this team have a chance to earn that starting net.”

Gibson Homer stands 6 feet 5. (Peter Vander Stoep/Sun Devil Athletics)

The battle for the starting job in net will likely come down to the more experienced Kraws and Semptimphelter, who has looked the part of a No. 1 goalie in camp. Powers won’t likely reveal his decision publicly until the week of the team’s first game at Minnesota Duluth on Oct. 1, and he isn’t providing any public hints on the pecking order for his three-headed goalie team.

“It’s a completely open job and you’ve got three guys competing for it,” he said. “When I name the starter, that starter is going to be the starter for game one but he’ll have to earn it past that game. Until somebody takes the net in game play then the net’s not taken.

“I’m not a huge goalie-by-committee guy. We’ve always been at our best when we’ve had one kind of go-to guy so if one guy can step up and take the reins and roll with it, then that’s what we’re gonna do. In college hockey, there’s less than 40 games and these kids are all wanting to be pros. In the NHL, starting goalies play a lot more games than that so you’ve got to be able to deal with the wear and tear of two games a week. That’s what we’re looking for.”

Top photo via Getty Images: TJ Semptimphelter was named the best goalie of the Beanpot.

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