With the departure of Ryan Bednard, Bowling Green hockey lost a goalie with a goals against average (2.06) and a save percentage (.918) that rank first and second, respectively, in the program’s history. Promoting a new face to the same role this year can raise questions.
Eric Dop feels he’s answered those questions.
In five straight games this season, the Lewis Center, Ohio native has fought through the pressure of being named the program’s new starting goaltender and capped off a strong weekend against 18th ranked Western Michigan with a 37-save performance and a 2-1 overtime win.
“Last year I was just trying to get in the net. But right now I feel that I’m capable of playing my best hockey. Last weekend was the best hockey I’ve played in probably three years,” Dop said.
Three years ago Dop had just finished climbing the Ohio Blue Jackets U18 junior system and started in 30 games for the Tri-City Storm of the USHL. He backed his squad with a .906 save percentage and a 2.92 goals against average, but said he didn’t learn as much their as he did at BGSU.
“It’s a lot nicer here. We really get to work on our development more,” Dop said. “Last year (for me) was all practice and development.”
Moving to his freshman year as a Falcon, Dop played in 15 games but never found the consistency he desired. His sophomore season he only manned the net in nine games, but didn’t see any action in the final two months of the schedule.
The first goal scored against the Falcons this season came 21 minutes into game number one against Miami. Gordie Green, on an off-angle shot along the far boards, squeaked a puck under the pads of Dop. It was the first game he had started in nine months and Dop was already wishing he could have that chance back.
“At the end of the day it’s nothing I’m going to stress too much about, because we won. We’ll learn from it, but it’s nothing I’m worried about,” Dop said.
By the end of the night, Dop and the Falcons had given up four goals on 19 shots, but got the win. However, two weeks later on Saturday night in Kalamazoo, Michigan, it was Dop who stole the show. His 37 saves and only one goal against powered him to WCHA Goaltender of the Week honors.
“He’s finally getting his opportunity to show everyone he’s a number one goalie in this league,” head coach Ty Eigner said. “Eric does everything you’re supposed to do on a weekly basis… So I think it was really encouraging to see him get the results that he deserves.”
In a passing of the torch of sorts, Falcon faithful have so far seen evidence Dop can be just as consistent as his predecessor Ryan Bednard, who has since moved on to the professional levels. The 2-1 overtime win on Saturday was the only time in his collegiate career he had started five consecutive games. The longest streak Bednard had accumulated in his collegiate career was 14.
“Now that I’m the guy, I’m starting to play better and it’s just trying to stay more consistent,” Dop said. “I thought Ryan Bednard was unbelievably consistent last year. I thought that was something I could learn from.”
Bednard was a mentor to Dop in his freshman and sophomore season. Whether it was trying to stay on his game or learning to stay calm no matter what happens, he looked to the example Bednard set with his actions.
Now Dop finds himself in the same situation. Zach Rose, a freshman netminder, comes into the program looking to feed off of Dop and learn the ropes before he takes over the crease.
“It’s how you prepare for games every weekend. It’s showing up for practice the same way you do for games and getting in a routine,” Dop said, “and hopefully he takes the same lesson I did from Bednard.”
With more responsibility and more ice time comes more learning experiences. There is something new to build on each day, but Dop will be the first one to tell you it can be good to forget sometimes.
“I can remember them all,” Dop said. “I could probably tell you every goal that has been scored on me.”
“But as a goalie you learn to forget. Like, let’s say Friday night they kick it off their skate and hit it out of the air — it’s a good goal I’m not going to worry about it. Could I have stopped it? Probably. Could I have stopped the one on Saturday? Yeah. But, end of the day I did my job this weekend and I’m not going to worry too much about the goals I’ve let in.”
With every goal against there is to forget, there is a save that is meant to be remembered. For instance, Saturday night the Broncos’ Lawton Courtnall seemed destined to score. He sped away for a couple of breakaways that Dop turned aside, but the most compelling chance was a point blank slap shot in the middle of the slot that Dop snared with his glove.
“It happened so fast,” Dop said with wide eyes. “I knew guys were in front of me. I just went down, and with those saves it’s more of a blocking save — you’re not really reacting too much. It happened to go in my glove, and I made sure to let him know.”
Those are the type of plays that build momentum for a goalie. It’s one more save to add to the highlight reel.
“I think I feed off confidence when you watch me play. I think it’s only going to help me,” Dop said.
With two straight wins under their belt, Dop and the Falcons are looking to tack on more. Next in their crosshairs is Michigan Tech. The Huskies come to Slater Family Ice Arena this weekend for 7 p.m. games Friday and Saturday.