If all had gone according to plan, Jay Barriball
would be spending this winter several hours southwest of
Minneapolis, specifically in Sioux Falls, S.D. But a last-minute
change of plans, brought on by Phil Kessel's mid-August
signing with the Boston Bruins, has Barriball skating in
Kessel's place, and wearing Kessel's old number, for the
Golden Gophers. And after one month, his sweater isn't the
only place Barriball is sporting a Kessel-like number.
Clearly not content to make a quiet, unassuming
debut in the college ranks, Barriball has a point in each
of Minnesota's six games (five of them wins) and is tied
for the conference scoring lead (with teammates Tyler Hirsch
and Alex Goligoski) with 11 points thus far.
Gophers coach Don Lucia is happy with Barriball's
early success, if maybe not too surprised by it, telling
reporters that the rookie has been put in a good position.
By that he means a spot on the team's top forward line,
alongside veterans Ben Gordon and Blake Wheeler. Barriball
clearly made the most of the positioning in October.
"We all work hard and we all bang around
a lot, and when we're open we just seem to find each other,"
Barriball said after scoring half his team's goals in a
2-0 shutout of Colorado College last week. "We've all
got good puck skills and good hockey sense, so it works
Barriball isn't huge, at 5-9 and 156 pounds.
Position him next to Wheeler's massive 6-4, 215 frame and
the rookie looks positively Lilliputian. But that hasn't
stopped the new kid in sweater number 26 — before
Kessel, it was owned by a German-speaking fellow named Vanek
— from camping out at the top of the opponents' crease
nearly anytime the puck crosses the blue line.
"Just bang around in front of the net,
work hard, and goals will come," Barriball said when
asked to describe his style. "I didn't expect this,
but pucks have started going in and I hope I can keep it
up all season."
The season would have been spent in a Sioux
Falls Stampede sweater if not for Kessel's late defection.
Barriball's numbers were well-known in the high school ranks
two years ago when his 81 points in 30 games helped Academy
of the Holy Angels claim the Minnesota prep title. In the
Stars' 6-4 win over Moorhead in the title game, Barriball
had a hat trick. Last season, as a senior, his offense dropped
off a bit, if you can call 66 points in 25 games a dropoff.
He spent last spring with the Stampede and notched a dozen
points in 13 USHL games. He was ready to spend this season
in juniors too, until Lucia called and offered him a jersey
— Kessel's jersey — a year early.
"We've put him in a position to score
and he's done that," Lucia said recently. "He
knows what to do with the puck around the net — always
has. That's a good habit to have."
SEEN AND HEARD IN THE WCHA
Badger Injury Update: Badger
fans have had a rough go of things for the past few weeks.
Their team lost to North Dakota on the night their NCAA
title banner was unveiled. A win over the Fighting Sioux
the next night was diminished by the loss of two top-level
forwards (Jack Skille and Ross Carlson) to injury.
And after things seemed to get back on track
with a convincing win and tie over Minnesota Duluth, their
old friends from Boston College came to the Kohl Center,
swept, and left a bunch of questions about Wisconsin's offense
in their wake.
This weekend the Badgers make the long trip
to Anchorage for their first WCHA road series of the year,
and might have gotten a psychological boost of sorts when
Carlson (bum knee and all) packed his bags and made the
trip. Badgers coach Mike Eaves told Andy Baggott of the
Wisconsin State Journal that Carlson's road trip
is more about getting back into his normal pattern with
the team and less about playing, but didn't rule out having
Carlson in uniform if he's needed in an emergency.
Baggott also reported that Skille is healing
more slowly from his hyperextended elbow but may be back
within two weeks. In route to the title last April, the
Badgers' midseason swoon started with Brian Elliott's injury
and a visit by the Denver Pioneers. To some Badger fans,
it would be fitting if this season's road to recovery began
with Skille's return to the lineup a week from Friday when
the Pioneers visit Madison once again.
Great Weekend Getaway
at Minnesota Duluth
Do you remember what you were doing on Feb. 21, 2003?
If you were Don Lucia you were winning a game at the
DECC. For the last time. The Gophers have won an NCAA
title, a WCHA title and a WCHA playoff title since
then, but haven't won a game in Duluth. The red-hot
Gophers will get another chance to break the winless
streak this weekend when they travel to the Twin Ports
to face a young and hungry UMD team.
While You're There: Nearly 40 years
ago, on Nov. 19, 1966, another young and hungry bunch
of Bulldogs christened a new state-of-the-art arena
on the Duluth waterfront, routing the arch-rival Gophers
8-1. While actively trying to get state funding for
a new rink to replace the WCHA's oldest venue, the
folks at UMD will celebrate the 40th anniversary of
their barn's opening this weekend with throwback sweaters
and popcorn for a quarter.
start by his team has somewhat overshadowed the surprising
start by Michigan Tech junior forward Peter
Rouleau, who got his first D-I hat trick last weekend
— one week after scoring his first D-I goal.
Rouleau, a former star across Portage Lake at Hancock
(Mich.) High School, was runner-up for Michigan's
Mr. Hockey Award in 2002 and lit it up for D-III Finlandia
University (also in Hancock) for a season before transferring
to Tech at the end of the 2004-05 campaign. He's the
Huskies leading goal-scorer thus far with four after
recording just two assists in 16 games last season.
rumors — as of yet, unconfirmed — afloat
in WCHA circles that our pals at Minnesota State are
up to their old tricks again, and are talking of yet
another new Maverick logo (allegedly a "friendlier"
purple bovine). We really hope that's not true, and
that MSU won't be sporting what we believe would be
its 24th logo of the decade by midseason. We would
accept the Mavs claiming Puckman off waivers from
RPI and giving him a nice home in southern Minnesota.
FRIES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE BAG
• Congrats to Denver goalie Peter Mannino
on getting his first win of the season last weekend in Duluth.
Mannino had 23 saves in the Pioneers' 4-2 victory over the
Bulldogs on Saturday night.
• In the long-time-coming department,
Alaska Anchorage's next conference win will be the program's
100th all-time WCHA victory. The Seawolves became full-fledged
members of the WCHA at the start of the 1993-94 season (they
participated in the league playoffs the previous season).
Their march toward the century mark in conference wins was
delayed by a full year in the 2002-03 season when the Seawolves
went 0-22-6 in WCHA play.
• Two of the three goals in Minnesota
freshman Kyle Okposo's first collegiate hat trick last Saturday
were scored with the forward snapping wrist shots over Colorado
College goalie Drew O'Connell's glove hand and into the
upper right corner of the net. That got us wondering why
Okposo picked that spot, so we asked him after the game.
With a bit of a guilty smirk, Okposo admitted that he'd
worked with O'Connell at a goalie camp over the summer and
had made a mental note that high glove was the best place
to shoot on the Tigers' backup.
• The rivalry between Bemidji State
and Minnesota State that will be renewed this weekend dates
back more than 30 years to the days when both were members
of the D-III Northern Collegiate Hockey Association. Our
favorite sub-plot of modern meetings between the Beavers
and Mavericks makes us wonder if the loser has to pay the
pizza delivery guy when he gets to the door. It turns out
that Mavs coach Troy Jutting and Beavers coach Tom Serratore
shared a MSU dorm room for a year in the early 1980s.
• For years, North Dakota's recruiters
have done a great job of getting top talent out of northern
Minnesota. Now we can credit them with mining the northern
part of ESPN country too. As our friend Paul Shaheen reported
this week via Research On Ice, this week the Sioux coaches
got a commitment from forward Mike Cichy, who hails from
North Hartford, Conn., and currently skates for the USNTDP
U-17 team in Michigan. That coup should serve to table any
suggestions that they cut the travel budget for North Dakota
• If Bobby Goepfert's recent mini-slump
continues, Husky fans must be happy to know they've got
a capable backup. Rookie Jase Weslosky earned WCHA Rookie
of the Week honors recently after posting 28 saves (and
allowing two power-play goals) in the Huskies 4-2 win at
Minnesota State. Just by being between the pipes when the
puck dropped that night, Weslosky also snapped Goepfert's
streak of 20 consecutive starts.
of sources were utilized in the compilation of this report