When Phil Kessel committed to play college
hockey at Minnesota last year, the race for the 2006 WCHA
Rookie of the Year trophy immediately became a one-man affair.
Or so we thought.
Those who watch the weather should've anticipated
a winter storm to come out of the Red River Valley. Although
this one originated inside, not outside, the palatial Ralph
Engelstad Arena, where freshman forward T.J. Oshie led all
WCHA rookies in goals (with 22 so far) and has helped the
Sioux get to the WCHA Final Five at the Xcel Energy Center.
The rink is a familiar place for Oshie, who
last skated there 53 weeks ago when he led his Warroad High
School team to the Minnesota state championship and was
named to the all-tournament team. His jump directly from
the preps to a starring role on a nationally-ranked college
team is just one of the reasons Oshie’s debut has
As he prepared to return to the site of his
(so far) greatest hockey glory, Oshie talked about his rookie
year and what may come before the ice is gone from the Red
River of the North.
Inside College Hockey: Minnesota
State Mankato came into the WCHA playoffs on a hot streak.
The fact that they took your team to three games couldn’t
have been too surprising. T.J. Oshie: Not at all. The Mavericks played
really well, especially in the Friday night game when they
really had us off of our game. I think we were a little
shell-shocked right away but we were able to get back to
Final Five Capsules
No. 1 Minnesota UM: 27-6-5 (20-5-3 WCHA)
Golden Gopher Note: The
four previous times that the Gophers have come to
the WCHA Final Four/Five as regular season champions
or co-champions (1988, ’89, ’92 and ’97),
they have failed to win the Broadmoor Trophy.
How UM Wins: As was
pointed out in this week’s INCH
Podcast, offensive dynamo Ryan Potulny has done
his best work versus the league’s bottom-feeders,
and has been less impressive versus the likes of Wisconsin
and North Dakota. If the Gophers are serious about
claiming the first of two postseason trophies they’re
in the running for, and if Potulny is serious about
becoming the program’s fifth Hobey winner, this
would be the time to step up the game a notch.
Record: 25-9-3 (17-8-3 WCHA)
Badger Note: The Badgers’
last WCHA Final Five title came in 1998, when Wisconsin
defeated North Dakota 3-2 to claim the Broadmoor Trophy.
That was the last tournament game played at the Bradley
Center in Milwaukee.
How UW Wins: As has
been the story in all of the Badgers successes and
struggles this season, it all starts in goal. Brian
Elliott leads the league and the nation in nearly
every statistical category, and is 11-0-1 this season
versus ranked opponents. He’ll get a crack at
two more ranked opponents this weekend, and a continuation
of his current trend (two shutouts in his last four
starts) would be a good springboard into the NCAAs.
No. 4 North
Record: 25-15-1 (16-12-0 WCHA)
Fighting Sioux Note: This
is North Dakota’s ninth trip to the WCHA Final
Five in the past 10 years. The Sioux won the title
in 1997, in the last tournament played at the St.
Paul Civic Center, and in 2000, in the last tournament
played at Target Center in Minneapolis.
How UND Wins: Nothing
breeds offensive diversity like desperation. Those
who thought the Sioux were sunk last Friday when they
lost a game and leading scorer Drew Stafford to an
injury saw the young talent, and the defense, take
over. Jordan Parise deserves, but doesn’t get,
the good press heaped on Brian Elliott and Bobby Goepfert,
despite his trip to the NCAA title game last year.
Maybe he’ll change that this weekend.
6 St. Cloud State
Record: 20-15-4 (13-13-2 WCHA)
Husky Note: SCSU’s
last win in WCHA Final Five play came in 2001 when
the Huskies defeated North Dakota in overtime for
the title. Huskies forward Tyler Arnason, now with
the NHL’s Ottawa Senators, was named tournament
MVP that year.
How SCSU Wins: Andrew
Gordon is the offensive leader and Bobby Goepfert
is the backstop for a surprising club that was within
striking distance of home ice before some late-season
struggles. The Huskies have a .500-or-better record
versus UMD, Minnesota and North Dakota in this campaign,
and would love nothing more than another crack at
Wisconsin, which beat them three times in the regular
Bulldog Note: UMD is the only team
in the field to have never won the WCHA Final Four/Five.
The Bulldogs have never appeared in the tournament’s
title game, but have finished third three times.
How UMD Wins: The Bulldogs scored
just three goals, total, in their final six regular
season games, then put up four in less than four minutes
in their third playoff game at Denver. Most important
to the offense was senior Tim Stapleton, who’d
barely been heard from since playing a key role in
his team’s trip to the Frozen Four two seasons
ago. Another solid Nate Ziegelmann performance is
needed if the ‘Dogs hope to skate on Friday.
INCH: North Dakota hockey has
earned a reputation for high-flying offense over the years.
This season, is your team playing more defense than what
fans might expect from the Sioux? TJO: We still were one of the higher-scoring
teams in the league, for at least part of the year. I think
because we’re such a young team, the scoring wasn’t
there early on like we hoped it would be, but we’ve
definitely picked it up as the season’s gone along.
INCH: As young as your team is,
how much has a veteran like Drew Stafford meant? TJO: Drew is a very big part of our team,
not only offensively but off the ice. It’s been really
a challenge to not have him in the lineup, especially to
lose him in that first playoff game. So we’re all
looking forward to getting him back in the lineup.
INCH: In the opening playoff game,
first you lose Stafford, then you lose the game. How down
was your team at that point? TJO: We had a really bad start to that game,
but I think we battled back and stayed even with them. Those
kinds of things are just the way it goes sometimes. Right
after the loss we all understood that it was do or die now,
and we played like that the rest of the weekend.
INCH: People talk a lot about
goalies like Briggs, Goepfert and Elliott. What does Jordan
Parise have to do to get the respect he deserves? TJO: He’s a very good goaltender and
has kept us in a lot of games. Jordan is definitely underrated.
Last year people kind of looked at him and saw a good run
and said he was lucky or in the zone in at the end of the
year, but this year was a carryover from that and he’s
been playing well throughout. I think people are starting
to realize he’s that good now. And if we have one
real leader on the ice, it’s him.
INCH: With so many WCHA players
going from high school to the USHL and then to college,
you and Brian Lee are two notable exceptions. TJO: I was planning on playing in the USHL
this year in Sioux Falls. I signed with UND to come here
in the fall of 2006.
INCH: Why the change in plans? TJO: The coaches offered me a chance to come
to UND right away toward the end of the school year last
spring. Coming right from high school is a really big jump,
and there’s a chance that I wouldn’t be able
to make that adjustment right away, but I guess they saw
INCH: How did the transition to
WCHA hockey go for you early on? TJO: I’d played 11 games with Sioux
Falls last spring and that little bit there I got a feel
for a higher level, but coming here was still a ‘wow’
moment. Everyone can skate, everyone can shoot the puck
and everyone can hit. It was pretty surprising at first,
but I think I adjusted pretty well.
INCH: Everyone in the college
hockey world has made a joke about winter in Grand Forks
at some point. What sold you on going to North Dakota? TJO: I knew the prestige of the hockey program
and I knew the coaches. (Sioux assistant) Cary Eades was
my high school coach for two years before I came here, and
that helped out a lot. And I liked the smaller school atmosphere.
I came from Warroad which is only 1,700 people and has a
really small school and I liked that better than going to
a huge college.
INCH: How old were you when you
moved from the Seattle area to northern Minnesota, and why
did you do it? TJO: I moved when I was 15, the summer before
my sophomore year of high school. I wanted to improve my
hockey skills and felt like I had a better opportunity in
Warroad, where I’d be skating every day and I’d
be three minutes from the rink. Out in Washington, my last
year-and-a-half there I was 45 minutes to an hour from the
rink, driving back and forth. In Warroad I was a five-minute
walk from the rink.
INCH: Tell me about your last
year of Minnesota high school hockey, going undefeated and
winning a state championship. TJO: I had the time of my life. I don’t
more what more you could ask out of a senior year.
INCH: Have you been back to Xcel
Energy Center since then? TJO: Not since we won the title last March.
I love playing there. People ask me what my favorite rink
is, and after the Ralph and the Gardens in Warroad, it’s
the Xcel Energy Center. I kid the guys on the team that
my record in that building heading into this weekend is
6-1, so maybe I can improve that a little bit.