Nebraska-Omaha goaltender Ryan Massa had the top team in the WCHA and the UNO fans eating out of his hand for much of last night’s game against the University of Minnesota. The former Bismarck Bobcat and Fargo Force goaltender made 29 saves, several spectacular, in an eventual 3-2 overtime loss.
Massa has put up impressive numbers and garnered more minutes in goal than some may have predicted. In 18 outings, he is 7-6-2 with a 2.37 goals against average and a .921 save percentage. His goals against average matches his best junior hockey mark and his save percentage is 13 points higher than his best USHL campaign.
“Playing juniors in both leagues forced me to become more dependent and develop good decision making skills,” Massa said in an email. “Juniors made me stay disciplined which allows me to manage a full course load and meet the athletic demands of college hockey.”
A lot of players talk about the change in speed and skill level being the biggest challenge in making the jump from the USHL to the NCAA. Massa seems to have mastered that jump by posting numbers that are more impressive than any of his impressive junior hockey seasons.
For Massa, it has been the scholastic side of things that has become the biggest adjustment.
“[The most difficult adjustment has been] managing my time between school and hockey by far,” Massa said. “Never seems like there is enough time in the day to get everything done. Maintaining strong grades and meeting expectations on the ice are the biggest change.”
Massa walked into both an excellent and fun situation at Nebraska-Omaha. Former Force driller Johnnie Searfoss is part of the team and current Force captain Brian Cooper is part of the future. Massa played with both players during his time with Fargo. Tanner Lane, who started his USHL career in Fargo, is also a future Maverick.
Not only does Massa have some familiar skaters on the team and coming in, he has a familiar netminding partner in Dayn Belfour. Belfour, the son of former NHL great Eddie Belfour, was the number two goaltender during Massa’s first season with the Force. The former Force duo is part of a three-man system at UNO.
“Dayn is a great guy and great goaltender. It is great to be sitting next to him again and whenever I need a good laugh Dayn is surely there to make it happen,” Massa said.
In fact, the Force has a pretty good history of producing high-level goaltenders. Mike Lee was the USHL Goalie of the Year during Fargo’s inaugural season, and he has done good things with St. Cloud State. Lee is arguably one of the best upperclassmen goalies in the WCHA. Lee is also a Phoenix Coyotes commit.
Fargo has also had a hand in producing two UNO goalies in Belfour and Massa, along with current starting goaltender Zane Gothberg. Gothberg was a Frank Brimsek Award winner as a senior at Thief River Falls (MN-HS) and is a North Dakota commit and Boston Bruins draft pick.
To a degree, the Force also helped mold Cody Campbell, who is has played 21 career games for Niagra University.
Maybe there is something in the water in Fargo.
“Honestly, it says a lot of the coaching and scouting staff the Force utilize,” Massa said. “Each year the franchise has been fortunate enough to build a strong team around strong goaltending.
“Producing two NHL Draft picks and three WCHA goaltenders in its first four years as a club is a statistic not many other organizations can claim. [I’m] very fortunate I had the opportunity to be a contributor to the Force organization.”
Then, there is legendary coach Dean Blais. Most hockey players want to play for a guy like Blais, who has such a deep coaching history. He coached 15 years as an assistant and head coach at North Dakota before spending time in the NHL with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Nebraska-Omaha hockey has gone to a new level with the addition of Blais.
“Coach Dean Blais is an outstanding coach who demands and expects nothing but your absolute best every day,” Massa said. “He holds each one of his players to the highest standards and is one of the most competitive and hard working men I have ever met in my life and I certainly respect and value him for everything he teaches and look forward to achieving great things with him as my coach.”
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