January 17, 2008
Duluth's Dynamic Defensive Duo

By Jess Myers

Spend a few minutes watching Minnesota Duluth playing at home this season and your eyes might drift to the DECC’s rafters during a break in the action to check out the character and quirks of the WCHA’s oldest rink. Banners commemorating the school’s four Hobey Baker Award winners are particularly impressive. And when you see the product on the ice this season, it’s worth noting that the Bulldogs were the WCHA’s first team to have a Hobey-winning defenseman when Tom Kurvers grabbed the trophy in 1984.

WCHA Notebook

Junior defenseman Jason Garrison is one of three Minnesota Duluth players tied atop the Bulldogs' scoring chart with 13 points.

National TV Schedule

More than two decades later, these offensively-challenged Bulldogs are sticking in the national rankings and staying afloat in the race for a top-five finish in the WCHA thanks in part to a puck-moving goaltender and two puck-shooting defensemen who are (finally) working in something akin to harmony.

College, and college hockey, are all about learning. And for the Bulldogs’ top defensive pair, juniors Jason Garrison and Josh Meyers, learning to communicate and play with sophomore goaltender Alex Stalock has been quite an education. Meyers likens Stalock’s aggressive puck-moving plays to snowflakes — no two are exactly alike.

“He makes the breakout easier sometimes, but you’ve definitely got to communicate more with him because you never know what he’s going to do,” a grinning Meyers said while pedaling away on a stationary bike after a recent Bulldogs game. “It’s never the same thing.”

While proving solid defense, Garrison and Meyers are currently tied atop the Bulldogs scoring chart (with junior wing Nick Kemp) with 13 points each. Stalock, who sees more of that pair heading up ice than just about anyone, said it’s a matter of different skills complementing each other that has made the tandem so successful.

“(Garrison) is a big guy who was a forward when he was younger and I think he just converted to defense a few years ago,” Stalock said. “He’s got speed for a big guy and has that long reach to get around guys. Then he’s got that shot.”

The sound of Garrison’s booming slap shot has quickly become a hallmark of a trip to the DECC, putting a cringe into the opposing defensemen and goalies who are supposed to get in its way, and reminding some fans of another name hanging from the DECC rafters: Brett Hull. Then there’s Meyers, whose game is more about vision and finding openings to work the puck down low.

“Josh is a little like Niskie,” Stalock said, referencing Dallas Stars rookie Matt Niskanen, who was a fixture on the Bulldog blue line last season. “He’s not going to beat people with his speed but he’s got really good hands and sees the ice with unbelievable vision. Somehow he finds a way to get the puck to the net.”

Entering their junior seasons while playing without Niskanen (who left for the NHL after two years of college) has meant much more attention for Meyers and Garrison, but they’ve welcomed the chance to showcase their skills, and the results have been solid so far.

“There’s more pressure, but as you get older you know that’s going to come,” Meyers said. “We’re juniors now and can’t use the freshman excuse anymore. We’ve got pressure on our shoulders, but that’s what we’ve asked for. We have an older defensive corps so they expect that out of us, and if you can break out the puck it’s pretty difficult for the other team to score.”

Other teams have learned that to get a crack at beating Stalock’s high-risk, high-reward game, they’ve often got to get past Garrison and Meyers. That trio’s coach has learned that on a team that’s not scaring anyone with its forward lines, the defense is the key to a strong finish and a possible playoff run for UMD.

“I think 17 (Meyers) and 7 (Garrison) are our guys, no question,” said Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin — himself a former Hobey finalist who played defense. “They get the most ice time and they’re our two best players.”


Schmidt Happens: Referee Randy Schmidt will not be on the ice at a WCHA rink this weekend. But don’t get too excited just yet. He wasn’t scheduled to work this weekend, so the time off had nothing to do with his controversial (and admittedly erroneous) actions at the end of last Friday’s Denver-Wisconsin game.

To quickly recap, an apparent tying goal by Wisconsin’s Matthew Ford in the final second of regulation was originally ruled a goal by Schmidt, then overturned after he looked at video. The next day, the WCHA issued an apology, confirming that the puck crossed the goal line before time expired and should’ve counted.

Wisconsin athletic officials filed an appeal of the result (a 3-2 Denver win) and on Thursday, the WCHA denied the protest, saying that the result stands despite the error. As for Schmidt’s future in stripes, that’s not clear.

As it was the second time this season that the league has apologized for errors Schmidt has made, many have called for him to be removed — and the WCHA may do just that. But on Thursday, league commissioner Bruce McLeod told INCH that for now, Schmidt is still a WCHA official and “at this point he has not” been fired or suspended.

“We’re currently evaluating his status for the rest of the year, and I expect we’ll have a decision on that early next week,” McLeod said, adding that whatever decision is made, it’s not likely to be released to the public or the media.

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Wisconsin at Alaska Anchorage (Fri.-Sat.)

Wisconsin visits Alaska Anchorage for a pair, and it’s tough to decide who has more to prove. Hell had no fury like Badgers scorned last Saturday, but one wonders how long that chip on the shoulder will inspire Mike Eaves’ club. The Seawolves are in the league cellar and have just one win in their last six, but a sweep of the Badgers could get them back on track.

While You're There: Sorry, Houghton, but you do not have the market on ice sculptures cornered. Six teams of sculptors have been hard at work at Town Square in downtown Anchorage this week, carving gigantic blocks of special “blue diamond” ice shipped in from Fairbanks, competing for a $1,000 prize. Check out their works and enjoy free skating at the on-site ice rink.

Stick Salute

In a rare but enjoyable merger of ECAC Hockey and WCHA talent, the famed Yale Spizzwinks (?) men’s chorus gave a great a cappella performance of the Star Spangled Banner before last Saturday’s game between Minnesota Duluth and Minnesota State at the DECC.

And before you ask, the question mark is an official part of their name. So says the group's website.

Bench Minor

What happened Friday in Denver was an error on the part of one official, and it may cost that official his job. But to the folks who vehemently called for a replay of the game, an addition of overtime to be played later, or taking a point away from the Pioneers and calling it a tie, remember this time-honored fact of hockey: Bad calls are, and always will be, part of the game.


• This week’s significant change on the Alaska Anchorage roster has a local kid and Seawolf legacy coming back to the old stomping grounds. Freshman goaltender Bryce Christianson has joined the Seawolf hockey team and is eligible to play beginning with this weekend’s home series against Wisconsin.

Christianson, whose father Todd skated for the team in the 1980s, won 15 games in the USHL last season. Alaska Anchorage was in need of a backup goaltender to starter sophomore Jon Olthuis when junior Matthew Gordon was lost for the season after suffering an eye injury. Freshman walk-on Aaron Mayo was the only other available netminder after the loss of Gordon.

• Rhetorical question: How good is St. Cloud State rookie forward Garrett Roe? We thought maybe it was just hyperbole when a high-ranking NHL front-office friend of INCH told us Roe should be a Hobey finalist a few weeks ago. That was before the newbie from Vienna, Va., scored four of his team’s eight goals last weekend in a win and tie with Minnesota, earning WCHA Rookie of the Week honors for the second time this season.

• Expect bittersweet feelings for the seniors on both teams this weekend when Bemidji State visits Denver. It's the first meeting between the Beavers and Pioneers since Denver survived a 4-3 overtime win versus BSU in the opening round of the 2005 NCAA playoffs in Amherst, Mass. Matt Climie had 45 saves for the Beavers in that one, while the Pioneers went on to win the NCAA title two weekends later.

• Michigan Tech has the weekend off to contemplate what went wrong during their visit to Grand Forks. North Dakota beat the Huskies by identical 4-1 scores, marking the first time Tech had been swept in a road series in more than a year.

• While visiting Minnesota Duluth this weekend, the Golden Gophers might want to stay across the bridge in Superior, Wis., for a preview of what’s coming. The Gophers, who will start rookie goalie Alex Kangas on Friday, face either Minnesota Duluth or Wisconsin in eight of their final 14 regular season games.

• Folks in Mankato can cancel that order for meds needed to fight the sophomore jinx. Entering this weekend’s series with North Dakota, sophomore forward Trevor Bruess, who leads Minnesota State with 11 assists and 16 points, owns a team-best plus-minus rating of +12. The Minneapolis native has already eclipsed last season’s 14-point effort and enters the games with the Fighting Sioux riding a five-game scoring streak (2-4—6).

• Neighborhood rivals Air Force and Colorado College have been playing each other for nearly 40 years, and they’ll do so again this weekend. The series has been surprisingly lopsided, with the Tigers owning a 55-6-2 all-time mark. More impressively, CC is 28-0-1 in its last 29 meetings with the Falcons. Air Force’s 6-5 overtime win at Broadmoor World Arena in Nov. 1985 was the last time the boys in blue have scored a win in the battle of Pikes Peak. How long ago was that? Well, just a handful of the current Tiger or Falcon players were born then, and that rink was torn down nearly 14 years ago.

• According to National Geographic, not many people live in North Dakota (at least in the western regions of the state) anymore. But the eastern third of the Peace Garden State is thriving, and people there apparently like watching hockey in person. Both of last weekend’s games with Michigan Tech were sellouts at Ralph Engelstad Arena, extending the school-record streak of sellouts at that building to 11 and breaking the record of nine, set in 2001-02, the year the new Ralph opened.

A variety of sources were utilized in the compilation of this report. Jess Myers can be reached at jess@insidecollegehockey.com.