December 20, 2006
Postcard: Dogged Determination

By Jayson Hron

Following a convincing run to the NCAA Frozen Four in 2003-04, much was expected of a Minnesota Duluth team in 2004-05 that lost just four seniors to graduation. A returning nucleus of 11 upperclassmen guided the Bulldogs to a 5-0-1 start that season.

Then the championship express plunged to the depths like so many Lake Superior shipwrecks. Then the nation’s top-ranked team, UMD dropped 17 of its remaining 32 games. The failure was complete and lingering. Strife oozed from the locker room and grew even more potent last season when Bulldog upperclassmen appeared frequently disinterested. A veteran collection of talent saddled with great expectations had not only failed, it had splintered the locker room as well.

Defenseman Ryan Geris watched it all, not from the blue line, but from the press box. A sophomore during the Bulldogs’ Frozen Four season, he was forced to the sideline by concussions and missed most of that year and the next. Prior to last season, he announced that his playing career was over, but he would remain involved with the program as a volunteer assistant coach. The decision gave him a unique perspective from which he watched his friends struggle with their own lingering effects, not from concussions, but from a perfect plan gone awry.

“It all started with going to the Frozen Four,” said Geris. “It was such a high. Then we’re the No. 1 team in the country for a month. And then we don’t even make it to the tournament. I think it kind of stuck with some of those guys. It was like an extended hangover.”

Geris’ own concussion-induced hangover began to subside late last year. So much so, in fact, that he decided to dust off the skates for one final year as a player after seeing action in just 13 games since 2003. Officially a Bulldog senior, Geris was back on the blue line for the start of the 2006-07 campaign with every intention of helping the Minnesota Duluth hockey program emerge from its malaise.

“I can’t really describe how good it feels to be back out there,” he said. “I had accepted the fact that I wasn’t going to play again. It’s unbelievable to be back.”

A program desperately in need of a fresh start also received an infusion of old school energy from Bill Watson, a former Bulldog and Hobey Baker Memorial Award recipient, who signed on as a volunteer assistant coach. The last piece of the Bulldogs’ hopeful renaissance was a talented group of youngsters intent on working with UMD’s four seniors to rebuild the program’s psyche.

It all looked good early on as the Bulldogs captured three of a possible four points from UMass Lowell in Duluth, tied and lost to defending national champion Wisconsin in Madison, and topped Denver in the first game of a WCHA series at the DECC. Since that promising 2-1-2 start, UMD has fallen on hard times, winning just twice in its last 14 games.

Give Geris credit, however, for his stick-to-it-iveness. He's played in all but one of the Bulldogs' games this season and has contributed a goal and six assists. And though chances of achieving his goal of helping UMD recapture the glories of the recent past appear faint, Geris has proven that even the most pessimistic Twin Ports hockey fan has at least one reason to cheer this season.