Through the first half of the season, there was no doubt Drew DeRidder was the clear No. 1 goaltender for the Spartans. He was starting every single game and putting up statistics with some of the better goaltenders in the country.
But it was a nightmare game on Jan. 8 at Michigan that led to freshman Pierce Charleson making his first career appearance in green and white. DeRidder sacrificed three goals in just the first 11 minutes of the game, so in came Charleson into the fire for his first college game.
It was a disaster and not just from a goaltending standpoint but from an entire team. Charleson would go on to let in six goals to go along with 29 saves for the 9-0 defeat.
He then got his number called three weeks later again in relief of DeRidder at Wisconsin. He was much better allowing just one goal in 20 minutes of play.
In total, Charleson has come in to relieve DeRidder four times in 2020-21 with the most recent coming Friday night against Wisconsin. If you take out his first appearance against Michigan, Charleson has been brilliant in relief. In those 90 minutes, Charleson allowed just two goals while facing 55 shots.
Charleson earned his first start on Feb. 26 against Notre Dame, one game after a strong 41-minute performance versus Minnesota. The Aurora, Ontario, Canada native played well – well enough to win – making 31 stops while allowing two goals. His offense did him no favors though, being held scoreless for what would be the start of a three-game scoreless streak for Michigan State.
Then Saturday, the regular-season finale, Charleson was given the nod to start in net. He was an anchor in the net making 47 saves and keeping MSU in it for all 60 minutes. If it were not for Wisconsin forward Cole Caufield and a lack of multiple goals on the other end, Charleson could have easily earned his first career win.
Caufield finished the game with a brace of goals, both of which were hard stops for not just Charleson but any goaltender. The first one was a ridiculously good shot from a tight angle that went up and over the shoulders of Charleson - a shot, not even many professional players can make. The second was off of a bad turnover in the defensive zone that led Caufield to be wide open in front of the net.
“I felt good in there," Charleson said after the game. "Obviously nice to get another start and try to make the most of it."
“He was really good,” head coach Danton Cole said on Charleson’s performance Saturday. “Pressure situation and made lots of saves, handled things real well, an outstanding game from him.”
And that brings us to where we are now: the debate of who should start in net Sunday against Minnesota. Both goaltenders certainly have a case with nearly identical numbers, Charleson with a 2.81 goals-against average and .931 save percentage and DeRidder with a 2.76 GAA and .923 save percentage.
To Charleson’s credit, he has faced the top four teams in the Big Ten in all of his appearances: three against Wisconsin and one each against Minnesota, Michigan and Notre Dame.
DeRidder however has a much bigger sample size playing in 25 games this year compared to six by Charleson. His production has dipped over the past two months though while Charleson has shown signs of improvement.
The growth in confidence not just in Charleson, but in the team around him too, over these last few appearances is becoming more and more evident. His teammates and coaches trust him, even though he is just a freshman.
There are newfound energy and enthusiasm with him in the net, something many may not have expected earlier in the season.
So, Cole is now left with a tough decision come round one of the single-elimination Big Ten Tournament Sunday. Do you ride the hot freshman or do you go with your experienced goaltender?
We will find out at 4 p.m. in South Bend, Indiana when MSU will open the Big Ten Tournament on the campus of Notre Dame.
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