The shots kept coming and coming at freshman goalie Ben Auerbach as he did his best to keep them from getting into the net.
Auerbach saved 63 shots in Temple’s game against Drexel University on Jan. 22. Normally that would be a fine showing for a goaltender and enough to win the game. But Auerbach faced 69 shots — the most he’s seen so far this season — and the Owls lost 6-1.
“You don’t really plan on facing 70 shots, but I just have to take it as it comes,” Auerbach said after the game.
During his first year with the Temple ice hockey club, Auerbach’s been kept busy by opposing offenses.
Last season, all Temple goalies faced an average of 34.75 shots per game. Auerbach has seen an average of 44.9 shots in the 17 games he’s played for Temple (7-23, 3-9 Eastern Collegiate Hockey Association).
“It’s quite a few shots, but I think that’s nothing out of the ordinary for him,” junior defenseman Ryan Dumbach said after the Drexel game. “He’s pretty well-adjusted to standing on his head.”
“He’s kept us in a lot of games,” Dumbach added.
Though Auerbach has a 4-12 record, his .927 save percentage is second in the ECHA, going into the weekend of Jan. 29.
He is only one of two ECHA goalkeepers to face more than 700 shots so far. Lehigh University sophomore Andrew Carlin has saved 728 shots in 20 games, compared to Auerbach’s 707 stops in 17 games.
“I think we owe him,” Dumbach said. “We should take him out to dinner or something, because he’s been that good for us.”
The team started the season with four goalies on its roster, including two returning players, but Auerbach distinguished himself as the team’s primary netminder.
He has played in 17 of the team’s 30 games and played 48.8 percent of the Owls’ minutes in between the pipes. Auerbach was in net for four of the team’s seven wins.
“The team seems to play better in front of him,” coach Roman Bussetti said. “He’s a freshman, so anything he does is going to be above and beyond what we would expect or anticipate coming in as a freshman.”
Auerbach spent time with three Eastern Hockey League teams during the 2015-16 season. In 13 EHL games, he posted a .894 save percentage on 255 shots. In his under-18 seasons with Skipjacks Hockey Club and Team Comcast, he had .893 and .908 save percentages, respectively.
This year marks his highest lifetime save percentage, other than a .957 save percentage in two playoff games in 2014-15.
Auerbach considers himself a reactive goalkeeper with a strong base. He said he tries to model his game after Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby, who won the 2015-16 Vezina Trophy, which goes to the NHL’s best goaltender as voted by the league’s general managers.
“He doesn’t get rattled too much, he communicates well with the team and talks to them, lets them know what’s going on,” Bussetti said. “He stays focused on the game, stays focused on the puck.”
In Auerbach’s first game for the Owls, he faced 45 shots in a 3-2 loss to Indiana University of Pennsylvania on Sept. 16. His first win came on Oct. 10 against Villanova. Auerbach earned the team’s only shutout win on Nov. 11, when he made 44 saves in a 9-0 home victory against Penn State Berks.
“I’ve been fortunate to have a few good bounces come my way, and it’s been a good year,” Auerbach said.
Last season, Temple goalie Scott Salamon played 968 minutes in 18 games. Auerbach has played 889 minutes with four regular season games left.
“All the coaching staff agrees, he’s our number one as far as overall productivity and overall play,” Busetti said. “Where we’re at in the whole building process, he’s a nice piece to have for the next couple years.”
Jay Neemeyer can be reached at email@example.com.