Goaltenders are household names for fans of a hockey team. Part of that is because of how often they start, but another is because of the massive responsibility placed on their shoulders.
Kyle McClellan has been making a name for himself in Wisconsin, because he’s both the starting goaltender and because he’s been incredible between the pipes.
From a pure numbers perspective, McClellan boasts some of the best numbers in the NCAA. He’s posted a .934 save percentage — the second-highest in the NCAA behind only St. Thomas’ Jake Sibell, who’s played less than half as many games as McClellan.
McClellan is first in goals above average — a statistic that factors the number of minutes played against goals scored — and fifth in goalie’s overall winning percentage.
Dec. 1’s game against Ohio State marked McClellan’s third shutout this season, tied for first in the nation. The Badgers collectively have four shutouts after William Gramme stepped in for a game to shut out Alaska Anchorage.
Beyond the numbers, though, McClellan performs mind-boggling saves when it matters most. He’s kept the Badgers in the game when it matters most. It feels like every great save tops his previous.
To add to his great numbers and stunning saves is a team-forward mentality that’s a big part of what has made McClellan a successful goaltender.
Speaking to the press after games, McClellan said he believes his teammates have his back and his teammates believe that he’ll do all he can to pick up for them. That kind of two-way faith goes a long way to creating and building a strong defensive front.
The numbers reflect that too — Wisconsin is first in the nation in keeping opponents off the board — allowing the opponents only 1.69 goals in a game.
At the end of the day, it’s a two-way street in hockey. Defenders count on their goaltenders to make the saves when shots inevitably make it through them, and goaltenders count on their defenders to do everything they can to limit the number of shots they have to save.
The goaltending and defensive performance are a large reason for the Badgers' success early on. If the defense and goaltender can continue to pick each other up and have each other's backs the way they have been, it’ll give the Badgers offense the space and time to come away with the wins.
Ian Wilder is a senior staff writer and current men’s hockey beat reporter for The Daily Cardinal. He’s a former state politics and features reporter. Follow him on Twitter at @IanWWilder.