January 25, 2006
Kessel is Homeward Bound

By Jess Myers

WCHA Notebook

Phil Kessel carries a six-game point-scoring streak on his first visit to Madison as a Gopher.

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During his time as a skater for Notre Dame (back when the Irish were in the WCHA), native Minnesotan Don Lucia never recalls being singled out by fans in Minneapolis or Duluth when his team played there. He doesn’t see why it should be any different for one of his players this weekend, when the Gophers travel to Madison.

But if Wisconsin fans are intent on giving an earful to Minnesota forward Phil Kessel when the native son of Madison plays for “the enemy” at the Kohl Center, the highly-touted rookie says it’s not something that he’s sweating.

“I’m looking forward to it, definitely,” Kessel said, expressing absolutely no concern about how he’ll be treated by the Badger Nation. “I really don’t care. They might boo me, but I’m not worried about it. It’ll just be a fun experience to go home and play.”

Kessel has a few Gopher teammates who have been down similar roads in recent years, with mixed results. Current starting goaltender Kellen Briggs was raised in Colorado Springs, and two years ago made 23 saves to beat Colorado College 2-1 in his first game back there.

“I was nervous a little bit, but it was kind of fun,” Briggs said, adding that the treatment from fans in Colorado is much different than what he’s heard elsewhere. “It wasn’t that bad, but I don’t think they take it quite as seriously as fans in Minnesota and Wisconsin do.”

Earlier in the 2003-04 season, the homecoming wasn’t so successful for Gophers forward Danny Irmen, who played youth hockey in Grand Forks, and was a -2 in a 7-3 loss when he made his first return to the home of the Fighting Sioux.

“You have mixed emotions,” said Irmen, saying that the first game back in your hometown is one of the most emotional games you’ll play in a career. “You’re really excited to go back and play in front of your friends and family, but you’re also nervous that you might not have a good game.”

Duluth native Dave Spehar was the target of unrelenting verbal abuse, unflattering signs and even nasty t-shirts every time he returned to the DECC as a Gopher. By contrast, fans in Minneapolis seem more used to having talented Twin Citians go to other schools and come home to play against the Gophers. Lucia noted that the 2005 Hobey winner grew up 10 minutes from Mariucci Arena.

“Nobody booed Marty Sertich when he came back here, and he’s had a pretty good career,” Lucia said. “I think a kid should go to college where he wants to go.”

Still, Lucia and the Gophers know to expect a reaction from the Kohl Center audience, and Irmen said Kessel knows he has every teammate behind him if things get rough. Lucia said special treatment of Kessel by the coaches before the trip to Wisconsin is unnecessary.

“He seems so much more relaxed even than he was a month ago,” said Lucia. “Since coming back from the World Juniors, it just seems like he doesn’t have the same burdens on him.”

Perhaps having 15,000 red-clad Canadians yelling obscenities at you is the perfect prep work for having 15,000 red-clad Wisconsinites yelling obscenities at you.


Tigers' Time Off: A month before teams from Seattle and Pittsburgh descended on the Motor City, the Tigers of Colorado College left town with a pair of wins and a ton of momentum. In scoring a dozen goals to beat Michigan and Michigan State in the Great Lakes Invitational, the Tigers seemingly had a springboard to launch them into the season’s second half, with designs on keeping the WCHA title and making a return trip to the Frozen Four.

Four games later, there’s pain and discouragement where glory once seemed inevitable. The Tigers head into a weekend off having lost four in a row. In fact, when Joey Crabb scored in the first period of Saturday’s 3-2 loss at Minnesota, giving the Tigers a 1-0 lead, it was the first time they’d held a lead since leaving Detroit.

And since scoring in a 3-2 loss to Wisconsin on Jan. 13 to collect his 99th career goal, Tigers star forward Brett Sterling has been unable to crack the century mark. In the series in Minneapolis, it was not for lack of trying. He assisted on two of the Tigers’ four weekend goals, but spent the rest of his ice time having shots blocked and being repeatedly roughed up by Gopher defenders.

“That happens every weekend,” Sterling said. “Guys try to get in my kitchen, hit me after the whistle and do other stuff to try to piss me off. I’d like to see them call something when I get stuck in the face, but there’s not much I can do.”

After Saturday’s game, Sterling used his left to shake hands with reporters, as his right arm hung at his side with a hand that looked red and swollen. He said it was the result of a slash late in the game, and shrugged it off, but other reports out of Colorado Springs have Sterling possibly recovering from a broken thumb. Despite the physical and mental healing that can come from the weekend break, Sterling insisted he’d rather be playing on Friday.

“We definitely want to get back out there, but this (break) probably comes at the right time for us,” he said. “We know we’re a good team, and I think we did win these kinds of games earlier in the season. Things just aren’t going our way right now.”

Great Weekend Getaway
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Minnesota at Wisconsin (Fri.-Sat.)
Sure, there are DQ Cup points on the line at the DECC where the Mavericks and Bulldogs square off, but there are more significant MacNaughton Cup points to be had at the Kohl Center, where Wisconsin hosts Minnesota. And as if the Badgers needed another distraction, what with the two-game losing streak, the injured star goalie and the drop from the top spot in the INCH Power Rankings, NHL writer Stan Fischler picked this week to list Mike Eaves as a candidate for the New York Islanders’ coaching job. All of that should make for a fun weekend on the rink at the end of Mifflin Street.

While You’re There: The view of Madison provided by Google Earth shows a thin strip of city surrounded by huge expanses of lake on both sides. If frozen rinks get you dreaming of the open water to be had a few months hence, head over to the former home of Badger hockey (it’s now called the Alliant Energy Center, but it’ll always be “the Dane” to us) for the Capital City Boat and Water Sports Show, which runs Friday to Sunday. More than 275 watercraft will be on display.

Stick Salute

There’s something nice about heading to the rink wearing sunglasses, and watching the game with the late-day sun shining through the windows. Some will tell you that hoops, not hockey, is the better daytime sport, but after attending last Saturday’s Colorado College-Minnesota matinee in Minneapolis, we’re all for the occasional afternoon tilt. For those who enjoy a post-game beverage, there’s something to be said for ordering that first round at 6 p.m. instead of 10 p.m.

Bench Minor

Michigan Tech’s Tyler Shelast appeared to have scored for the Huskies last Friday when he tipped a Brandon Schwartz shot into the Alaska Anchorage net. But after a video review of the play, using only the view from an overhead camera, the officials ruled no goal, saying that Shelast had played the puck with a high stick. While we’re all for using video replay to determine the validity of potential goals, we join Tech coach Jamie Russell in asking how the height of a player’s stick in relation to the crossbar can accurately be determined via the view from an overhead camera.

The Tigers host North Dakota after the break, and a hungry crowd of Tigers fans will certainly be watching to see if Sterling can become the fourth player in the program’s history to score 100 goals.

“That’s definitely a nice milestone, and something I’ll look back on someday,” Sterling said. “But at this point in the season, I just want it to be a game-winner.”


• There were plenty of St. Cloud State fans disappointed a few years ago when Chris Harrington, son of 1980 gold medalist John Harrington and a star at St. Cloud Apollo High School, chose to leave the Granite City for college and went to Minnesota instead. Four years later, Huskies have landed a close relative of a Miracle on Ice player. Jordy Christian, son former North Dakota forward Eddie Christian, and nephew of 1980 Olympian Dave Christian, has committed to St. Cloud State. Currently a junior at Moorhead (Minn.) High School, Christian is expected to be in a SCSU sweater for the 2007-08 season.

• Former Minnesota Duluth Bulldog Dan Kronick’s hat trick versus his former team last weekend marked the continuation of an interesting trend. You can add Kronick to a list that includes Billy Lund and Adam Coole, both ex-Bulldogs who transferred to St. Cloud State, sat out a year, then had success versus their former team once they had matured a bit as hockey players. Of course, many Bulldog fans relished the fact that two years after leaving UMD, Lund was on the ice for the visiting team the night the Bulldogs clinched the 1993 MacNaughton Cup at the DECC.

• If Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin was missing from practice at all recently, it’s understandable. A few weeks earlier than planned, Scott’s wife Wendy went into labor this week and delivered the couple’s second child, a daughter who they named Katie. Congratulations to the Sandelins, and to the greater family of Bulldog fans on the new addition.

• Last weekend’s wins in Madison were notable for Denver for a few reasons. The Pioneers not only became the first team to sweep the Badgers this season, they handed Wisconsin its first shutout loss since Thanksgiving Weekend of 2003. The 1-0 Denver win on Friday came via 28 Glenn Fisher saves, for his first collegiate shutout.

• A check of the game summaries makes us think one WCHA official might have pulled the numbers 6 and 4 in his football pool last weekend. North Dakota was whistled for 64 minutes in penalties in both wins over Minnesota State Mankato, and the Mavericks also had 64 minutes in infractions on Saturday. The combined total of 128 minutes in that game was the most put up by North Dakota and an opponent since the Sioux won 7-3 at Yale while the teams notched a whopping 180 penalty minutes on Nov. 2, 2002.

• Despite a three-month layoff, Mavericks goalie Chris Clark didn’t look too rusty when he came on in relief of Dan Tormey in Minnesota State Mankato’s 6-3 loss at North Dakota. Clark, who played in 17 games for the Mavs last season, stopped four of the five shots he faced in his first appearance between the pipes since Oct. 21 when he went the distance in a 5-2 loss at Minnesota.

• If anything resembling the trap was being played by either Alaska Anchorage or Michigan Tech last Saturday in Houghton, it was stunningly ineffective. The Seawolves put a season-high 43 shots on net, and were still outshot by 10, as the Huskies sent 53 toward the opponents’ goal in the 2-2 tie. Both Seawolves goalie Nathan Lawson and Huskies goalie Michael-Lee Teslak were honored by the WCHA for their work, with Teslak grabbing Rookie of the Week honors and Lawson being named co-Defensive Player of the Week.

A variety of sources were utilized in the compilation of this report.