November 2, 2006
Earlier-Than-Expected Returns from Barriball

By Jess Myers

It was an unseasonably cold fall in the Twin Cities – the kind of weather that gets many Minnesotans to dreaming of heading somewhere south and west for the winter.

WCHA Notebook

Minnesota is on a roll, and scoring lots of goals. Newcomer Jay Barriball (pictured) enrolled at Minnesota one year earlier than expected, but has made the most of his opportunity.

National TV Schedule

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 really well."

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."


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.

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Minnesota 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.

Stick Salute

The surprising 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.

Bench Minor

There are 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.


• 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 recruiters.

• 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.

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