2 Goalies, No Problem for Daniels, Bulldogs
by Matt Slovin/CHN Reporter
Taylor Nelson is a lot older than C.J. Motte. And if Nelson had his way, he wouldn't be sharing time in net with the freshman for Ferris State during his senior year.
But splitting time between the pipes isn't a brand-new concept to Nelson. Earlier in his Bulldog career, Nelson and former Ferris State netminder Pat Nagle were also playing on a by-committee basis. Though Nelson undoubtedly learned a lot from Nagle, every goaltender wants to be in the crease every night.
Nelson is no exception. He's adapted to his role this season, becoming comfortable splitting time with one of the program's newest members in Motte.
"There's a difference between accepting it and embracing it," said Ferris State head coach Bob Daniels. "[Nelson's] accepted it, but because he’s a competitor, I'm sure he would prefer to play every game. With that said, he doesn't allow that to become a disruption in the locker room whatsoever and [the situation] certainly doesn't affect the relationship between the two kids."
Obviously, the dynamics of the pair's relationship would be different if they were both upperclassmen. Nelson describes it as a professional relationship, one that involves a lot of time spent together on the ice in practice, even though each wants to earn the start come Friday night.
"We talk a lot on the ice," Nelson said. "It's kind of tough off the ice, just because he's off doing his classes and he's in the dorms and I'm off campus and doing my classes. It's a great working relationship."
And with Daniels watching the duo closely in practice to determine who will start, little room for error is left. Watching the other make a crucial save or a smart read is all the more motivation for the other to rise to the occasion.
"It's certainly competitive," Daniels said of his goaltenders' relationship. "They're competitive Monday through Thursday at practice."
But when it's game time in Big Rapids, whichever goalie didn't get the nod is the starter's biggest cheerleader. Some argue that it's more difficult to get into a rhythm when you don't know if you're going to be starting, but a similar system is being employed around the country as well.
"C.J.'s a good, young goaltender and I respect him a lot," Nelson said. "You're seeing more and more often in college hockey that teams are splitting goaltenders and trying to get the maximum output from both of them."
Needless to say, Daniels usually has a difficult decision to make by the time Friday rolls around. To make matters harder, consider the similarities between the two goalies' playing styles.
Nelson calls himself a "quiet" goaltender. He doesn't care to dominate the stat sheet, as long as he keeps his team in the game.
"If somebody doesn't notice you on the ice, I feel like I've done my job," Nelson said. "When you're making things look easy, that's what I kind of strive for."
Nelson then hesitated, before realizing his comrade shares many of the same qualities. Both focus on limiting rebound opportunities as much as possible. Both do everything they can to play their own game, trying to dictate its pace.
The older Nelson is still given most of the starts — he's been in goal for 17 of the Bulldogs' 27 games. But his stats are eerily similar to Motte's. Entering this weekend's series against Michigan State, Nelson is saving at a .922 rate. And Motte? .923. Motte gives up an average of 2.07 goals per game, and Nelson surrenders 2.23 — impressive numbers for a by-committee rotation.
Daniels cites practice and recent performance as the two main criteria for deciding who will start.
"I'll just go with whichever one I feel at that time gives us the best chance to win," Daniels said. "If it's close or even, I'll split them [over a two-game series]."
And Daniels certainly has had success picking between Nelson and Motte. The surprise Bulldogs currently sit in first place in the CCHA.