Apr. 9—UND has picked up its No. 1 goaltender for next season.
Bemidji State senior Zach Driscoll announced Thursday night he will transfer and play his fifth and final year with the Fighting Hawks, who needed to find a netminder after starter Adam Scheel signed with the Dallas Stars and backup Peter Thome entered the NCAA transfer portal.
The answer will be Driscoll, an Apple Valley, Minn., product, who has been one of college hockey’s best over the last three seasons.
The 6-foot, 183-pound netminder has earned all-Western Collegiate Hockey Association honors in each of the last two years and was a finalist for the Mike Richter Award as the nation’s top goaltender as a junior. Because the NCAA ruled the 2020-21 season does not count against anyone’s eligibility, Driscoll had the option of playing a fifth college season. He decided to enter the transfer portal last weekend.
“I am excited to announce that I will be completing my fifth year of hockey eligibility at the University of North Dakota,” Driscoll wrote on Twitter. “The opportunity to become a member of the UND Hockey program is a great honor, and I look forward to doing everything I can to represent and continue the great tradition of UND hockey.”
Driscoll will travel two hours west on U.S. Highway 2 from Bemidji to Grand Forks, where he figures to play a center-stage role on a UND team that has won back-to-back National Collegiate Hockey Conference Penrose Cups but will have a different-looking roster next season.
That includes the goaltender position, where Scheel has started the majority of games during the past three seasons.
UND should have a good idea of what it’s getting in Driscoll, though.
For starters, he comes from Apple Valley, the same hometown as UND assistant and goaltender coach Karl Goehring.
Driscoll played junior hockey with the Penticton Vees in the British Columbia Hockey League. Penticton churned out some of college hockey’s top goalies the last five seasons — Minnesota Duluth’s Hunter Miska, Driscoll, Minnesota’s Mat Robson, Scheel and Minnesota’s Jack LaFontaine. The year Driscoll played in Penticton, he was teammates with UND-bound players Tyson Jost, Colton Poolman, Dixon Bowen and Gabe Bast, so the Fighting Hawks surely saw plenty of him when scouting their recruits.
On top of all that, UND has gone head-to-head with Driscoll four times — twice when Driscoll played for St. Cloud State and twice when he was at Bemidji State.
Path to Grand Forks
It has been a winding road to Grand Forks for Driscoll.
He started his college career at St. Cloud State in 2016-17, but struggled (.888 save percentage) and lost the starting job to Jeff Smith. After that season, Driscoll opted to return to junior hockey for one year — he posted a .934 for the Omaha Lancers in the United States Hockey League — then transferred to Bemidji State.
In Bemidji, Driscoll’s game flourished.
He posted a .909 save percentage as a sophomore. As a junior, he was named a finalist for the Mike Richter Award as college hockey’s top goalie, posting a .937 save percentage. The Beavers were on track to be an NCAA tournament team that season, but the playoffs were wiped out due to the coronavirus pandemic.
In 2020-21, Driscoll posted a .922 save percentage and was named the WCHA’s scholar-athlete of the year. He also led the Beavers to the NCAA regional championship game. They beat No. 1-seeded Wisconsin in the tournament’s opening round, but lost to national title game-bound UMass in the region final.
“I want to thank all of my teammates and coaches, and the incredible fans in Bemidji, for everything you have done for me,” Driscoll wrote on Twitter. “We accomplished a lot during our 3 years together. My decision to move on was not easy, but I believe in my heart it is what is best for me at this time. I will always be grateful to the Beaver hockey program and the university for the opportunity they have given me.”
What’s next at goalie
With Driscoll in the fold, UND now has two goaltenders on the roster for next season. Third-stringer Harrison Feeney remains in the mix.
But the Fighting Hawks will still have to find one more goalie, and their current commits — Hobie Hedquist and Kaleb Johnson — don’t appear ready to come to college yet.
Thome still could return, but with the addition of Driscoll, that seems unlikely. Thome has spent the last four seasons as an extremely supportive backup, but he will look to be a starter in his final year of college eligibility.
Outside of Thome, the highest-profile uncommitted goaltender currently in the transfer portal is UMass Lowell’s Logan Neaton, a Winnipeg Jets draft pick. Two NCHC backups are currently in the portal in Western Michigan’s Austin Cain and Miami’s Ben Kraws.