Austin goalie is Division 1-bound: Robertson headed East for college
Austin Bruins goalie Ethan Robertson has persevered through injuries and illnesses over the past year-plus. His patience has paid off; he committed this week to play Division I college hockey at Canisius College in Buffalo, N.Y.
AUSTIN — Ethan Robertson won’t soon forget his first game as an Austin Bruin.
It was Feb. 4 of this year. The Bruins were coming off back-to-back losses against North American Hockey League Central Division rival Bismarck (N.D.) in which they didn’t play particularly well.
It also happened to be Robertson’s first appearance in a game in nearly three months. The after effects of a concussion suffered while playing for the Springfield (Mo.) Junior Blues kept him out of action — and ultimately caused the Jr. Blues to release him — from mid-November until early February.
After three weeks of practicing with the Bruins, though, Robertson felt good. He was nervous. He was excited. He was ready to stop however many shots came his way.
Then the game started and he faced one shot in the first period. It was a great way for Robertson to get back into game mode, though, as that one shot was a breakaway for a North Iowa player after a Bruins turnover. Robertson made a clean, calm blocker save.
“Oh yeah, that was a mental (challenge), for sure,” Robertson said with a laugh this week, thinking back on what turned out to be a 3-1 Bruins win, Robertson making 21 saves in the process. “That was my first game in a long time and only seeing one shot … I was just like ‘wow, we’re dominating this game. I just have to be ready for the next shot.’”
That mental focus and poise under pressure is what the Bruins love so much about their second-year netminder from Courtice, Ontario, Canada. It’s also what a handful of Division I college programs around the country like about the 6-foot-2, 175-pound, 20-year-old netminder.
One program in particular had a winning sales pitch. Robertson committed to Canisius College in Buffalo, N.Y., this week. He’ll join the Golden Griffins next fall with a prime chance to see playing time immediately. Canisius — which is 5-10-2 this season and plays in Atlantic Hockey — has three goalies on the roster this season, two of whom are seniors.
An added bonus: Canisius is approximately a two-hour drive from Robertson’s hometown. Austin, he said, is about a 15-hour car ride from home.
“The coaches just said ‘come in, work hard and earn your ice time,’” Robertson said. “Nothing is given to you at the next level, or at this (NAHL) level.”
After being released by Springfield and joining Austin last season, Robertson played in 10 games for the Bruins, as veteran Klayton Knapp held down the No. 1 goalie role. Robertson fared well in his starts, though, going 3-2-3 with a 3.16 goals-against average and an .897 save percentage.
When Knapp departed Austin for the Green Bay Gamblers of the USHL this offseason, Robertson’s mindset shifted. He knew he was going to return to Austin for his final season of junior hockey, and he there was no question in his mind that he wanted to be the top guy in goal for a talented Bruins team this year.
He has been just that, posting a 10-1-2 record with a 1.59 GAA and a .941 save percentage in 15 games this season. He and rookie Trent Wiemken have combined to form one of the best one-two goalie tandems in the league. Wiemken (7-2-2, 2.44, .908) helped Austin maintain its hold on first place in the Central Division while Robertson was sidelined with a minor lower-body injury in late October and early November.
“When Ethan came in last year, he was happy to just be playing again,” Howard said. “He just went about his business, never came in and said ‘what do I have to do to get more playing time?’ He understood Klayton had some (colleges) looking at him pretty hard. Ethan didn’t at all mind being the No. 2 guy.
“But that mindset shifted this year. He is our returner and he came in and wanted that net. It was nice to see that transformation in his demeanor and attitude, the way he’s handled himself.”
The strong play — and consistency of it — from Robertson and Wiemken this season is a big reason why the Bruins have created a sizeable lead atop the Central Division standings as the season nears its halfway point. Austin is 17-3-4, with 38 points in the standings, good for a 10-point lead over Minot (13-10-2) and North Iowa (13-11-2).
The Bruins head to Aberdeen (S.D.) this weekend for a two-game series against the Wings (12-8-3), who sit just one point back of Minot and North Iowa. Odds are Robertson — who had communication with a half-dozen college programs before choosing Canisius — will start one, if not both, games this weekend.
“His hockey side of it speaks for itself,” Howard said when asked what attributes will make Robertson a good college goalie. “We love the kid. He’s very quiet, has a dry sense of humor, but he’s so witty that he’ll say something that can make an entire room die laughing.
“His personality is great, a great locker room guy. On the ice he’s always calm, cool and collected. He had a lot of college coaches say ‘he doesn’t ever look like he’s fazed or rattled.’ He doesn’t show that emotion on the ice, but he’s a competitor. I’ve seen him after losses and he’s not happy. That’s nice to see, too, but he never takes it out on his teammates. He doesn’t ever blame anyone. He just doesn’t like to lose.”
Robertson said having his college commitment out of the way will allow him to focus on the remainder of the season and attempting to help the Bruins win a division title for the first time since the 2014-15 season.
“For sure, this team does feel special,” he said. “The camaraderie … all the boys are super meshed, a super tight group. … It’s a thing where, you’re battling for the guy beside you because you know he’s playing hard for you.”