HOUGHTON - As the months progressed after the conclusion of Michigan Tech's 2012-13 hockey season, one roster spot remained glaringly empty: a third goaltender.
And it's a strange position to fill. In one respect, goaltender, by Tech coach Mel Pearson's admission, is the most important position on the ice, but in another sense, the third spot is a position that may not see much playing time. With Tech having two sophomore goalies atop the depth chart, a clear-cut starting opportunity may not present itself for three years.
Time was working against Tech, and the unusual role was too, but the Huskies landed their guy: Matt Wintjes.
The 5-foot-11, 175-pound native of Holland Landing, Ont., and four-year goaltender for the Newmarket Hurricanes was waiting for his opportunity, too, even though a few other teams were possibly in the mix for a year later.
"We needed a guy, but we were patient," Pearson said. "We knew of him, and (Tech alum and Newmarket coach) Justin Peca was really good about talking about and promoting Matt. We looked at a few other goalies, and we didn't think Matt would be available.
"... It all came together. He made a visit up here and fell in love with it. We're very fortunate he was still available."
Tech called Wintjes two weeks after his season ended in Game 7 of the Ontario Junior Hockey League finals against St. Michaels, he visited, and in early June, just three weeks after first contact, Wintjes was on board to be a Husky.
"It happened so quick," said Wintjes, who turned 20 years old in June. "... I had a couple colleges tell me to play another year in juniors, and being a goaltender they like taking older guys, but I felt that I was mature enough to get on with my career and I'm good enough to play at this level. Tech offered me for this year and I said it was the perfect spot for me."
Wintjes doesn't have the size of Tech sophomores Pheonix Copley and Jamie Phillips, who both stand 6-foot-3, but his regular season career .912 save percentage and 2.31 goals against average - in 109 games played - speak for themselves.
"I'm a small, quick goaltender," Wintjes said. "I'm only 5-10, so I have to make up for my height with my speed and agility. I play calm in net, and I make the right saves at the right time."
For example, his career save percentage even improved in the playoffs, to .925 in 37 games played. In 23 playoff games started last season, he had a .933 save percentage and 2.22 GAA.
"You're the backstop of the team, and you can make or break a game. I like living under that pressure and living up to expectations," Wintjes said.
And even though he committed to Tech relatively late, Pearson fully expects him to be in full competition with Tech's sophomores.
"We're excited. He's going to push Pheonix and Jamie," he said. "They had good years as freshmen, but still they were inconsistent, so Matt's going to come in and have a chance to push these guys. Competition is good."
Tech has gone through such a wide range of goaltending situations, even just under Pearson. When he came in 2011, he had two seniors and a junior. Last season, he had a senior and two freshmen. Now, he has two sophomores and a freshman in what he has told the goaltenders is a three-way open competition.
"From what I've heard, it's up in the air," said Wintjes, who will be majoring in business management. "Everyone comes in and does their best, and we'll see what happens. ... They said they're really looking for a guy to come in and step up to the plate, and put Michigan Tech where they want to be. It's a good opportunity to come in and see how the cards play out down the road."