Hockey: Freshman suits up to confront pressure in backup goalie role

Freshman backup goaltender Aaron Alkema steps between the pipes when either graduate student Matt Michno or junior Fedor Dushkin is called out of the net. (Ramon Nieves| For The Post)

Ohio freshman Aaron Alkema has always joked that he chose to be a goalie because of the equipment.

But the Caledonia, Mich., native has always enjoyed the heightened sense of importance of standing between the pipes.

“You have the ability, night in and night out, to either win the game or lose the game for your team,” Alkema said. “I kind of like the pressure it adds and makes it all the better when you come out on top.”

He joined the team in late December and had a rough start, allowing five goals in two periods against Lindenwood in January.

Coach Dan Morris was testing the young goaltender and was impressed with how he responded by shutting out Penn State for 27 minutes and playing solidly in his start against Kent State, when Morris blamed poor defense for three of the four goals he allowed.

“We had to throw him out there to see what he could do,” Morris said. “… Throwing him out there, he was a little overwhelmed. But you look at the Penn State game, in front of (6,000) people in relief and looked great.”

Though Alkema said he’s had many good goalie coaches in the past, he enjoys learning the position through his own mistakes.

“I think one of the most important parts of the position is you start to learn, ‘Yeah, I did this wrong here,’ ” he said. “It’s almost that you get to a point where I am right now, where I start to coach myself and most of the time I know what I’m doing wrong.”

After he graduated from Cranbrook Kingswood High School, he started playing for Belle Tire AAA hockey in Detroit when he met with assistant coach Mike Callan about a tryout with Callan’s former team, the New Hampshire Junior Monarchs of the Eastern Junior Hockey League.

He kept in contact with Callan, and when former Ohio goalie Brendan Madden left the team, he jumped at the idea of joining the Bobcats.

“I came down and visited in early December and liked it right away,” Alkema said. “The guys on the team were really good and brought me in, and so here I am.”

He’s assumed the role as the third-string goalie, backing up either graduate student Matt Michno or junior Fedor Dushkin in net, depending on who started the game.

“I’m confident that if either Matt or I don’t do well, he’ll come into the game and do well,” Dushkin said. “He definitely takes shots a lot better than he used to and that’s really half the battle.”

And Alkema takes his role as a backup very seriously, knowing that he could be called upon at any point during a game.

“When I’m on the bench, I’m more relaxed,” Alkema said. “But at the same time, you have to be ready. … When you get in the game, your team is counting on you, so you have to be physically and mentally ready.”

From what he’s seen this season, Morris is happy with what the 6-foot 3-inch goalie has accomplished and sees potential for growth in this game.

“We knew he was big, young and raw and has good technique,” Morris said.

“We like where he’s at, now it’s just confidence from that side of it. He works hard at practice, we’re happy he’s on the team and he gives us another option in the future at goaltender.”

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