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
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
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
“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
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.