It was the smallest hotel room that Zane McIntyre had ever seen.
There was one single bed.
The walls were just two feet away on each side.
The bathroom was so tiny, it could only fit one person at a time.
This was where he would be holed up with Grandma Susie for six days while competing at a hockey camp in Faribault, Minnesota.
The quarters were tight and the two snuggled up together on that single bed all week, but that was OK with Zane. This is what hockey trips were all about to him: playing the sport he loved and hanging out with grandma.
She took him to every game, tournament and camp growing up.
While his single mother, Kelly Jo, worked as many as three jobs to support her two children, Grandma Susie drove from her home in Grand Forks to pick Zane up in Thief River Falls, then go to wherever that weekend’s event was being held — whether it be Winnipeg, Roseau, Lake of the Woods, Minneapolis or beyond — before returning home.
It got to be so much driving that Grandma Susie eventually moved to Thief River Falls. To her, that was a much better option than missing a game.
It was Grandma Susie who helped get Zane interested in hockey in the first place. The longtime chair of the occupational therapy department at UND, Susan McIntyre had season tickets at the old Ralph Engelstad Arena. She would bring Zane, his sister, Jade, and his mother to the games.
Zane would watch for a while, but couldn’t resist the itch to play.
He would buy mini hockey sticks at the merchandise stand and seek out discarded tin foil hot dog wrappers on the ground. Zane would crumple them into a ball and hit it around with his mini sticks in the aisles.
To Zane, hockey was synonymous with grandma. And grandma was synonymous with hockey.
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“She was going like 80 on Columbia.”
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On Jan. 15, 2011, Zane’s mother was driving Grandma Susie to a doctor’s appointment in Grand Forks. Grandma, sitting in the passenger’s seat, passed out during the drive.
Kelly Jo sped to Altru — the local hospital — as fast as possible.
“She was going like 80 on Columbia [Road],” Zane said.
She pulled into the emergency bay and Grandma Susie was immediately sent to the intensive care unit.
Zane got the call right after finishing a pre-game skate. He had graduated from Thief River Falls Lincoln High School eight months earlier and was playing junior hockey for the Fargo Force.
While the incident was sudden, her declining health wasn’t a complete shock. Grandma Susie had been getting shortness of breath, had a loss of stamina and had been diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in recent months.
The phone call and news hit Zane hard. He wanted to leave the team and be with grandma in Grand Forks.
But the Force said they didn’t have time to call up a backup goalie, so he stayed for the game. Zane didn’t play, but sat on the bench in case there was an injury.
“It was … hard,” Zane recalls, tearing up. “Really hard.”
After the game he went to visit Grandma Susie in Grand Forks. She spent the next seven months battling pneumonia, bronchitis, septic shock, COPD, kidney issues and gallbladder problems.
On July 4, 2011, her body shut down and she passed away. Zane lost his biggest fan and best friend.
Zane knew immediately that he would find different ways to honor Grandma Susie. It started a month later with the design of his goalie mask.
Grandma Susie’s occupational therapy students made shirts with a sketch of her on the front years ago. Using that as framework, Zane had an artist paint his grandmother on the back of his helmet. She held a Diet Coke in one hand and a cigarette in the other. Across the top, it said, “Love you Grandma Susie.”
The cigarette has since been dropped, but Grandma Susie, her trademark Diet Coke, her puffy hair and wired glasses have been on his mask for the past four years.
Zane wanted more, though. Something more permanent.
He thought of getting a tattoo, but wondered if it could fade away or become distorted through the years. Then, he thought of it: changing his last name.
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“She was working three jobs. She’s breaking her back.”
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Zane’s parents got divorced when he was about a year old.
At that time, he moved from Grand Forks to Thief River Falls where he was raised by his mother. He only talks to his father a couple times a year.
The family bounced around homes for a couple years before settling in a trailer park behind Digi-Key and Arctic Cat, the town’s two biggest employers.
Zane’s older sister, Jade Gothberg, stayed in the master bedroom, so she would have her own bathroom. Zane and mom stayed on the other end of the trailer. The living room was constantly cluttered with hockey gear. Both Zane and Jade played goalie.
Their mother worked hard to support the family and her children’s hockey dreams. She held down as many as three jobs at a single time.
“I think it was pretty difficult for her,” Zane said. “Very difficult. But she didn’t see it as an obligation or anything. She saw it as an opportunity to support her kids. When I was growing up, that was her No. 1 goal: helping me and my sister out. She was working three jobs. She’s breaking her back. She’d come home at the end of the night exhausted. It was tough to see, but she did it for a good reason.”
It was in her nature.
Kelly Jo didn’t just look out for her own children. When she worked as a lunch lady at the middle school, she knew which kids grew up poor and had a limited lunch plan. She would always go to the kitchen, collect the leftover food and sneak it to those kids, even if it meant she would get in trouble from her co-workers.
Zane watched this play out, and it left an impression on him.
His high school coach, Tim Bergland, once said that when you first meet Zane, he’s so kind and polite that you think it’s over the top and that it’s not genuine. Then you get to know him and realize he’s 100 percent for real.
When Zane was a toddler, his sister got a Fisher-Price kitchen set. Zane would steal the orange out of the set, use some mini hockey sticks and hit it around. That was his first introduction to hockey. But he didn’t get on the ice until he was 7 years old.
That’s when he attended a ‘Skate with the Sioux’ event. Then-UND coach Gino Gasparini saw him on the ice and told him: “You have to play hockey. You have to learn how to skate.”
He wasn’t the best skater right away, but he fell in love with it.
He joined a Peewee hockey team and played both defense and goalie until the coaches finally made him choose one. He picked goalie.
Naturally athletic, Zane caught on quickly.
“I remember Zane coming to our summer UND hockey school when he was like 8 years old,” UND goalie coach Karl Goehring said. “You could tell he was an athletic kid and had some potential.”
That developed through the years, as did his love for the University of North Dakota.
His bantam coaches were Tom Goddard and Jake Brandt, both former UND players. Brandt played goalie and was able to give goalie-specific advice to Zane, something most athletes in small towns aren’t privy to.
By Zane’s sophomore year, he was the starting goalie for the Thief River Falls Prowlers, one of his big dreams. After strong sophomore and junior seasons, the attention started coming.
The first college coach to contact him was then-UND assistant Cary Eades. Right after he hung up the phone with Eades, Zane called grandma to tell her.
“She thought that was pretty special,” he said.
The summer before his senior season in high school, Zane was invited to Model Camp on the campus of the University of Minnesota. It’s essentially a recruit tool for the Gophers. Zane visited the campus while he was down there and had a good time.
When he returned to Thief River Falls on Monday, he stopped by the insurance office where Brandt worked. He just wanted to chat. Zane was wearing Gopher shorts that he got at the camp.
Brandt, a proud and loyal UND alum, was not amused.
“What the heck are those?” Brandt asked. “Why do you have that junk on?”
Zane chuckled. Brandt didn’t.
“We’re calling Hak right now,” Brandt said.
They walked to the conference room, put the phone on speaker and dialed up UND coach Dave Hakstol. Zane committed on the spot, still in the Gopher shorts.
“I had them on, but I walked out of that place with them off,” Zane said. “I don’t know what happened to them, but they probably got burned or something.”
Zane had achieved another dream. He was going to play hockey at UND.
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“We lost her, but we still have a good part of her.”
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Zane immediately showed potential to be a top-end goaltender at the Division I level, but was too inconsistent as a freshman. By the end of his sophomore year, he developed into a dominant player.
He led UND to the NCAA Frozen Four, stopping 44 of 45 shots in a double overtime regional championship game against Ferris State.
After that performance, everyone knew his name. Except for Zane.
He pondered changing his last name before, but it was time. A friend of the family, who also is a lawyer, helped guide him through the process. This fall, it became official.
Zane Gothberg was now Zane McIntyre.
Oh, he was still good at hockey.
In the past week, he has been named the National Collegiate Hockey Conference goalie of the year, a finalist for the Mike Richter Award as the nation’s top goalie and a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award as the top player in all of college hockey.
He is on pace to set career records in goals-against average and save percentage at UND.
“From a technique standpoint, Zane’s movement and his quickness moving down low with his feet really separate him,” Goehring said. “Given his size, being able to move that big frame so quickly is such an asset for him. He does a great job getting to his spots so quickly. That’s something from a physical standpoint.
“A couple of things stand out personality-wise, though. He loves to play. He loves being around the rink. He’s so engaged in it. He’s a student of the game. He’s always coming to me with ideas. He’s always looking to improve. When you combine his physical elements and his drive to get better, that’s what has elevated him to where he’s at today.”
Zane and his teammates have big goals for this season. They already checked one off the list by winning the Penrose Cup. Friday, they take on St. Cloud State in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff, and next week, they’ll be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
While Grandma Susie won’t be there yelling from the stands like the old days, Zane knows now that she literally has his back.
“We lost her,” Zane said, “but we still have a good part of her.”
This article was written by Brad Elliott Schlossman from Grand Forks Herald and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.