Sunday, December 5, 2021

Drew DeRidder showed up when someone didn't, now he's a starting goalie for MSU Hockey

February 10, 2021
<p>Then-freshman goalie Drew DeRidder (1) stares at the puck after a Michigan goal during the game Feb. 8, 2019, at Yost Ice Arena. The Spartans fell to the Wolverines, 5-3.</p>

Then-freshman goalie Drew DeRidder (1) stares at the puck after a Michigan goal during the game Feb. 8, 2019, at Yost Ice Arena. The Spartans fell to the Wolverines, 5-3.

Photo by Matt Schmucker | The State News

Drew DeRidder slid into his position in the net.

He steadied his breath, slid his knees onto the smooth ice of Munn Ice Arena and prepared for the inevitable barrage of hockey pucks that would zip toward his facemask.

His eyes opened, remembering how this all came to be – how his one goal on the rink became simply stopping the other team from winning the game.

"So, my dad being the coach he just kind of volunteered me," he said, likening his position on the MSU Hockey team to being a victim of circumstance. "One day our goalie didn't show up to practice, around when I was seven or eight. My dad just threw me in net and I was in there ever since."

Even though he started growing up as a kid in Michigan, hockey didn't necessarily choose DeRidder, nor did the goalie position.

DeRidder, like many other goalies nowadays, started out as a skater on the ice. It was not until his team’s goaltender, while playing in Flint, never showed up at a practice, and somebody needed to play in net.

From there, he found his passion and talent and his career took off at a young age. DeRidder played with multiple different programs around Michigan including Flint, Midland and Detroit.

He then got his first big break winning the gold medal for the United States national team at the 2016 Youth Olympic Games. That was followed by playing for the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders in the United States Hockey League and the United States National Team Development Program. He has also had influences from former NHL players Todd Bertuzzi, Jason Woolley and Paul Cavallini before heading to Michigan State after looking primarily at Big Ten schools.

Eventually, it became written in stone that this would be his path as a hockey player. As a freshman at Michigan State, he jumped from the frying pan into the fire to play the most difficult position in maybe the best Division I conference in college hockey.

“This place just felt like home as soon as I stepped on campus,” DeRidder said. “I spent some time here throughout the years coming to hockey, basketball, football games. I’ve grown up a Michigan State fan, and when I came on my visit it just felt like home and this is where I wanted to be.”

Most freshmen aren't asked to do what DeRidder did. Albeit, he has had his fair share of setbacks and bumps along the way to where he is now as a junior. 

DeRidder made his Spartan debut Oct. 13, 2018 – this October that will be three years ago – when he allowed four goals and made 23 saves in a 4-3 loss to Northern Michigan all before he could even legally buy a beer.

He started off that freshman year splitting time in goal with then-junior John Lethemon.

Lethemon made 19 starts while DeRidder made 17 starts with the two of them posting nearly identical stats: 3.24 goals-against average and .905 save percentage for Lethemon and a 3.23 goals-against average and .906 save percentage for DeRidder. 

DeRidder started three games in the first month of the season last year. After that, he all of a sudden was sitting on the bench while Lethemon stepped in.

“That was a tough pill to swallow," DeRidder admitted. "We started off splitting the first couple games, and I did not do anything bad necessarily. I was still playing pretty good."

"He just did everything right," DeRidder said. "It was a tough situation. It was tough for me to stay motivated sometimes and come to the rink. It’s kind of like you hear some of the third goalies say 'come to the rink,' it’s tough to keep work and you don't know if you are going to get another opportunity to play again. But once I got past that, it was not too bad. I just realized I had to use that time to prepare for what now being this year, just use that time to get better and improve my game."

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DeRidder was right though. It was not necessarily because of his own play, rather the stellar senior performance from Lethemon, who posted a 2.13 goals-against average and .935 save percentage his senior year. 

It was a Nov. 8 game at Penn State where Lethemon recorded a fantastic 48 save shutout, earning himself the keys to the Spartans full time starting goaltender position. 

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But after not playing for over three months, DeRidder got another opportunity in late February when Lethemon was feeling under the weather. He did not know he was starting until he got to the rink that day, but DeRidder was prepared and took full advantage of the opportunity. 

With perhaps a chip on his shoulder, he allowed just one goal and made 33 saves in a 1-0 loss to Ohio State. 

“That gave me a lot of confidence too, knowing that I could still hang with that," DeRidder said. "At that point, I was pretty down on myself and thinking it was all my fault. No, I just thought I wasn't good enough for this level anymore, but that game really helped me out a lot to know that I still belonged here, that I have my chance again.”

Riding some of that confidence, DeRidder started off the mysterious COVID-19 season this year with a fantastic series against Arizona State. In the first game, he made 22 saves and allowed one goal. Then in game two he was even better making 30 saves and earning his first career shutout. 

DeRidder has started all 18 games for the 6-10-2 Spartans in 2020-21 with a .932 save percentage, 11th best in the country and third-best in the Big Ten for goalies that have started at least ten games. He also has a 2.48 goals allowed average and two shutouts on the season.

This past week, DeRidder was one of 35 goalies named to the Mike Richter Award Watch List for the nation’s best goaltender.

"It's not surprising one bit to me," DeRidder's former teammate Lethemon said. "I have seen how hard he has worked the last couple years when I was there. It's exciting for me to see all his hard work to really pay off this year and to have a lot of success."

It hasn't been all pretty in 2020-21 for DeRidder though. He's had two games this season where he was pulled in the middle of the game to be replaced by freshman Pierce Charleson. 

The first came in early January when DeRidder allowed three goals in the first minutes at Michigan en route to a 9-0 defeat.

A second came on Jan. 29 when Wisconsin scored five goals in two periods on the junior. 

It is never an ideal situation, but that is what happens in hockey. Sometimes it just isn't the goaltender's night or the team’s night.

“Every goalie has been through that," DeRidder said. "You're never going to get around that. It sucks that it happens, but you know it can happen again. It's inevitable. You're going to get pulled and you're going to have those days."

How the Spartans and DeRidder have responded after those games are defining much of their season.

After the Michigan loss, the Spartans bounced back and won 3-2 with DeRidder stopping 38 shots. Then after the Wisconsin loss, MSU played much better despite losing and DeRidder allowed three goals with 37 saves. 

It goes to show the trust head coach Danton Cole and staff have in DeRidder. Both of those games where he got pulled came in the first game of the series with the team playing again the next day. DeRidder easily could have been given the day off but instead, he went right back in the net, steadied himself and just did his job.

"Drew has been outstanding and he has given us a chance in almost every game and that's what you want out of a starting goaltender," Cole said Tuesday.

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Having a solid goaltender like DeRidder not only helps the team win games but also helps each and every player improve.

"Watching him play and getting pushed by him kind of helps me too, from a competitive standpoint," Lethemon told The State News in a phone interview. "That was really good to have him in the locker room and it just made me better and made the team better, shooters and players and everything. It was a really good situation to have where everybody had that competitive drive to get better and have that friendly kind of competing against each other but supporting each other at the same time."

Cole said that DeRidder has also stepped up mightly as a leader this year, taking Charleson under his wing in a similar fashion that Lethemon did to him.

"You have a pair that you want them to work together," Cole said. "You want them to push each other and you want it to kind of be that teammate thing. ... Again, that's just another leadership facet that he's bringing to the table which I think makes it even more impactful for him as a young man."

The Spartans will need to play and leadership like that to continue from DeRidder, who says he wants to play professionally one day. 

With Tuesday’s game at Michigan postponed, wins are becoming more and more important. Michigan State will have a two-week break in between games, a good time for them to get healthy and recollect themselves in hopes of potentially earning their first sweep of the season before the Big Ten Tournament in March. 

For DeRidder, this season is a culmination of everything that has gotten him here.

His success is becoming the high water mark for everything that is to follow.

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