When Zach Wiese started playing youth hockey in Owatonna, he looked around the ice and decided at a young age that playing forward or defenseman wasn’t really for him.
The idea of pucks being shot at him constantly didn’t bother him. The idea of having to constantly skate up and down the ice did, though.
“When I was younger I was too lazy to be a skater,” Wiese said with a laugh, “so I figured I’d be a goalie because they just stand there. Now I know how much you have to work.”
Wiese has certainly learned how to put in the work.
After a standout career at Owatonna High School, the 5-feet-10, 210-pound netminder has become the go-to goalie for the Rochester Grizzlies in his second season with the defending North American 3 Hockey League Central Division champions.
Wiese was a multi-sport standout at Owatonna, but a majority of his work in the weight room was designed to put on the mass needed to be an offensive lineman for the Huskies’ powerhouse football team.
“His fitness is better for being a goalie now, compared to last year,” said Grizzlies head coach Chris Ratzloff, who has known Wiese for six years, after coaching him in a High Performance fall league. “He was bulked up to be a football lineman and carrying that extra weight is tough on a goalie. It’s a lot harder work.
“That’s been a big thing for him this year is his fitness level is good. His agility is a lot better; his overall fitness has improved tremendously since he started training for hockey. It’s a whole different thing.”
It’s not that Wiese was a bad goalie last year. In fact, he was among the best in the NA3HL statistically, posting a 13-3-1 record, with a 1.83 goals-against average and a .920 save percentage.
He also happened to be on a team that, for a second consecutive season, had the NA3HL Goalie of the Year. And as strong as Wiese was in goal, Soderwall was the league’s best, going 26-3-1 with a 1.30 GAA and a .949 save percentage.
“Shane’s an amazing goalie, he competes really hard every day,” Wiese said of Soderwall, who has advanced to play with the North American Hockey League’s Anchorage Wolverines this season. “That was a big thing for me. I saw him compete and I knew I had to stay with him. He helped me learn how to compete and be a better goalie.”
Wiese is expected to be in goal tonight when the Grizzlies open their home schedule against NA3HL Central Division rival Peoria, the team Rochester knocked out of the postseason in last year’s Central Division finals.
With more than half of Rochester’s roster turned over from last season, Wiese will be heavily leaned upon at times to keep the team in games until the newcomers can jell and consistently play a full 60 minutes.
“He’s just square to everything, even in practice,” Grizzlies goalies coach Tait Carlson said. “He stays in there and if he gets a shot up high, he’ll go to the corner and reboot quickly, but he’ll stand in there for everything that comes at him.
“Does he need to work on some stuff? Of course, but who doesn’t? From what I’ve seen, he’s on his toes and ready for everything.”
Wiese, who is 2-0-0 with a 2.00 GAA and a .900 save percentage through the first two weeks, has also embraced the role of being a veteran leader, not only to rookie goalies Kaleb Bents and Lucas Henderson, but to all of Rochester’s newcomers.
“We don’t look too far ahead,” Wiese said. “We just look at this week and every week hope to get a sweep, but take it one game at a time. Obviously the big goal is to get back to the Fraser Cup and win it, but for now we try to look at every game as a must-win game, every single time we play.”