Junior hockey: Bruins goalie Lehr commits to University of Minnesota
Nick Lehr has played with and against other goalies who have earned Division I college hockey scholarships during his three seasons with the Austin Bruins.
Lehr's perseverance and patience paid off on Wednesday, when he not only committed to a Division I program, he committed to one of the best programs in the country, one that is less than 10 miles from his hometown of Roseville.
Lehr, 20, hopes to lead the Bruins to a North American Hockey League championship this season before he moves on to play for the No. 2-ranked University of Minnesota Gophers.
"They looked at his level of consistency," Bruins coach Chris Tok said of the Gophers' coaches. "The way Nick's playing, if he plays 10 games, you'll get the same thing out of him every time. One night he'll have a 92 (save percentage), then a 91, a 91, a 92 ... that's the biggest thing he's shown.
"To have the numbers he's putting up, you can't be inconsistent."
Lehr's play is a big reason why the Bruins (31-17-1) have a three-point lead for first place in the NAHL Central Division over Bismarck as they chase a second consecutive division championship.
He is among the league leaders in every statistical goaltending category in the 24-team NAHL, a Junior A Tier II league, the second-best level of junior hockey in the country. Lehr is tied for first in victories (27), fifth in save percentage (.931), sixth in goals-against average (1.93) and second in minutes played (2,388:15).
"We've had quite a few teams talk to us about Nick," said Tok, who received a call from Gophers coaches on Wednesday afternoon to talk about Lehr. "Minnesota has been to two or three of our games and they've seen he's kept his consistent level of play.
"And he has the ability to stand on his head at times."
Lehr has played in 40 of the Bruins' 49 games this season, but Tok said the veteran is showing no signs of tiring.
"He's holding up really well," Tok said. "We gave him a lot of rest in January, but he played four of the five games up in Alaska (in mid-February), then three periods at the Top Prospects Tournament … it's going to be tough to rest him in March when he's playing so well, we're trying to win the division and it's as tight as it is."
Lehr will become the first Bruin to play for the Gophers, who are 21-4-5 and ranked No. 2 in the country. The Gophers have three goalies on their roster this season — sophomore starter Adam Wilcox, sophomore Ryan Coyne and senior Mike Shibrowski.
Lehr could battle with Coyne for the No. 2 job next season, assuming Wilcox, a 2011 draft pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning, stays at Minnesota.
"Proud to announce my commitment to the University of Minnesota!" Lehr wrote on Twitter Wednesday evening. "Thanks to family, friends, and coaches along the way!"