In the two goaltenders who have stood in front of its net this season, the University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team has a study in contrasts.
It’s not as much a difference in playing style as it is in playing personality.
Junior Jack Berry is the one who rarely shows emotion during a game, who keeps all of his mannerisms under his protective mask.
Freshman Daniel Lebedeff lets everyone know how he’s feeling by his reactions and interactions with other players, even if he has reined it in somewhat since his younger years.
Both attitudes have been put to the test in recent games as the Badgers have seen cause to have each goalie get consecutive starts.
“I think they complement each other really well,” UW coach Tony Granato said. “I don’t see a competition where one guy is against the other guy.”
Heading into the Badgers’ final series of 2018 against Michigan State at the Kohl Center tonight and Saturday, their goalie situation is only slightly clearer than it was at the start of the season two months ago.
Berry conceded that the consistency he hoped would be part of his game in his third collegiate season hasn’t been there. When it looked like Lebedeff was going to get a streak of starts built up, a concussion set him back.
UW has made statistical strides in team defense for which the goalies can claim some of the credit. Yet they’ve bounced momentum back and forth between themselves, making the idea of a long-term starter less of a possibility.
Still, Granato said his team is in a “good spot” with goaltending.
“This is right where we hoped to be,” he said. “We hoped Daniel would come in and give us a guy that could compete and give us a situation where both guys are playing well and competing against each other.”
The Badgers were near the bottom of the country in team save percentage over the past four seasons but, at .902, have improved to the middle of the pack.
Berry opened the season with a shutout of Boston College, but still posted unsightly numbers — a .860 save percentage and 4.19 goals-against average — over his first five appearances, concluding with him being pulled from a game at North Dakota on Nov. 2 in the second period.
Lebedeff made the next four starts and appeared to be getting into a comfort zone. But he suffered a concussion when he was run into by Ohio State’s Dakota Joshua in the second period of a Nov. 16 game.
Since taking over that night, Berry has turned his statistics around. He has a .945 save percentage and 1.72 goals-against average in his past four appearances. For making 37 saves in a 1-1 tie at Michigan on Nov. 23, he was named the Big Ten Conference’s third star of the week.
Lebedeff made consecutive starts last weekend against Penn State, but he was replaced by Berry after allowing five goals on Saturday. Berry earned the victory that night after making saves on all six shots he faced while the Badgers rallied.
Last Saturday’s game brought the difference in emotions between the two front and center.
Lebedeff showed his anger after allowing the fifth goal and being pulled from the game, slamming his gloved hand into the boards at the bench.
“I’m an emotional goalie out there,” he said. “I’m still keeping my focus on the game. For a couple seconds, I show my emotions but I think I have the ability to, after that, just focus on the game and clear out my mind.”
The displays used to be more explosive in juniors, Lebedeff said.
“He’s intense. He’s emotional. He’s a competitor,” Granato said. “When things happen … you learn from it.”
Berry said he was getting excited as the Badgers came back from a two-goal deficit after he entered the game, but he tried not to show it.
“When I express my emotions, it’s probably not the best because I get too worked up,” Berry said. “So I like to try to compose myself. Obviously, there’s times in games you get a little (ticked) off and whatnot, but I try to keep my emotions to myself.”
There have been only two weekends out of the first eight this season in which both goalies didn’t play. Berry got both starts in the opening series against Boston College, and Lebedeff started both games against Minnesota last month.
So if splitting time is going to be the norm for the Badgers, Berry and Lebedeff are in it for each other.
“We were talking the other day: If we’ve got this tandem going, we can be the best in the country,” Berry said. “And we just have to believe in that and believe in our team.
“It’s a great relationship between the two of us. I’m happy when he’s playing, and he’s happy when I’m playing. As long as we’re both playing good, you can’t really have anything better, right?”