Stevens Point Area Senior High boys hockey coach Dan Francis went with a hunch.
Faced with a seasoned senior Michael Storch and untested varsity sophomore Nathan Siclovan battling to open the season as the No. 1 goalie, Francis was torn.
When the Panthers took the ice Nov. 20 for their season opener against state-ranked Verona, Siclovan was standing between the pipes getting ready for his first varsity start.
“I knew Nathan had been a quality goalie with the Madison Capitols AAA team playing against competition from Chicago and Detroit, so I gave him the start to see what he could do,” Francis said. “He just took it and ran with it from there and has continued to improve throughout the season.”
Entering the season opener, Siclovan had no clue if he would be starting or not.
And that might have been a good thing. The less time he had to think about the situation, the better. Heck, why deal with butterflies the size of pterodactyls if it’s not necessary?
“The day before (the Verona game) coach told us he hadn’t made up his mind yet and to make sure we were prepared,” Siclovan recounts. “He told me right before the game I was going to start.”
He picked up his first varsity win that night, a tough 4-3 outcome, and Siclovan has done nothing but reaffirm his coach’s faith in him since that first varsity start.
Not only has the netminder proven he can handle the job like a veteran, but Siclovan is arguably playing as well as any goalie in the state.
No one in the state has been better between the pipes from a statistical point of view. Siclovan, who owns a 16-2-1 record, ranks first with a 1.16 goals against average and a .952 save percentage.
Pretty heady stuff for someone who didn’t make his first varsity start until three months ago.
“I kind of expected to do well, but I didn’t expect to be ranked (in the state where I am now,” Siclovan said. “I just keep working on the details like making sure I don’t give up rebounds and if I do, to put them in the right spots.”
One individual who might deserve consideration for being the top goalie in the state will be manning the net on the other end of the ice tonight.
Wausau West’s Sam Weigert actually leads the Wisconsin Valley Conference with a 0.43 goals against average entering this week. Siclovan is right behind with a 0.52 gaa.
And in the first head-to-head meeting between the teams Jan. 8, Weigert got the upper hand in a 1-0 overtime win for the Warriors.
While both goalies are outstanding, Francis wouldn’t trade his for anyone in the state.
“I’m really comfortable with the guy I got and he has a great future ahead of him,” the SPASH coach said. “I knew he was going to be a good goalie and that he would challenge for a starting spot coming in. He hasn’t surprised me. He’s a good player and a good goalie.”
Siclovan continues to work with Capitols goalie coach Larry Clemmons in the offseason and during any breaks he might have in the season.
His style is simple. See puck. Stop puck. There isn’t a lot of flopping around on the ice or flailing at shots in order to make saves.
Instead, Siclovan uses his 6-foot-1 frame to cover as much of the net as possible and give teams very small openings to shoot at.
“My coach tells me if you can make things simple, why make things hard on yourself,” Siclovan said. “I’m still just playing the style he teaches.”
All his coach and teammates ask is that he keeps doing what he’s doing, because it’s working.
“Nathan has made the saves we need him to make and made some saves we don’t expect him to make,” Francis said. “He’s kept us in a lot of games this season for sure.”