March 16, 2007
WCHA Semifinals
Sioux Find Missing Link in Search for More Offense
New line offers support for Duncan-Oshie-Toews trio in rout of St. Cloud State

By Jess Myers

North Dakota 6,
St. Cloud State 2
Team Goal Str
Time Assists
First Period
1-ND Jonathan Toews PP
16:20 R. Duncan, T.J. Oshie

Second Period

1-SC Andreas Nodl (17) EV
4:09 A. Gordon, N. Dey
2-ND Chris VandeVelde (2) EV
5:19 C. Porter, M. Watkins
3-ND Chris VandeVelde (3) EV
8:43 M. Watkins, T. Chorney
2-SC Andrew Gordon (22) PP
10:06 N. Dey, A. Nodl
4-ND Jonathan Toews (16) EV
12:29 T.J. Oshie, Genoway
5-ND Matt Watkins (6) EV
13:12 C. VandeVelde, Z. Jones
Third Period
6-ND Chris Porter (8) EV
9:06 R. Kaip, E. Fabian
ND: Philippe Lamoureux, 59:56, 25 saves, 2 GA
SC: Bobby Goepfert, 59:57, 29 saves, 6 GA
Penalties: ND 10/20; SC 6/12
Power Plays: ND 1-3; SC 1-7
Attendance: 17,511

ST. PAUL, Minn. – North Dakota was one of the rare WCHA teams that didn’t have a game last Sunday, and that idle time apparently led to a little inspiration from the head coach of the Fighting Sioux. Dave Hakstol said Sunday was when he first hit on the idea of promoting rookie center Chris VandeValde to his team’s second line. By dinner time on Friday, that move looked like a stroke of genius.

The only question mark presented during North Dakota’s impressive 15-2-4 post-Christmas run has been offensive diversity, and the trio of VandeVelde centering Matt Watkins and Chris Porter may have provided a suitable answer in the WCHA semifinals. VandeVelde scored his second and third collegiate goals, and Porter and Watson each scored once as the Sioux blitzed St. Cloud State, 6-2, for a spot in the Final Five’s title game.

Hakstol admitted he’d been looking for the “missing link” on that line for some time, and had seen improved play from VandeVelde despite the fact that the rookie headed to St. Paul having only scored once. Instead of looking back on this season, Hakstol looked back a few seasons earlier, to VandeVelde’s play in St. Paul for a team named the Spuds.

“Chris has had success in this building before, in high school. I remember a few tremendous performances he had with Moorhead High School a few years ago,” said Hakstol, recalling VandeVelde and defenseman Brian Lee leading the Spuds to the 2005 Minnesota State High School Tournament’s title game.

Less than halfway through the opening period, the Sioux had already peppered Bobby Goepfert with a dozen shots, and afterward their opponents admitted being somewhat awestruck.

“At this time of year, to be playing the way they’re playing is incredible, really,” said Huskies assistant captain Andrew Gordon. “They come at you at 100 miles an hour, every shift, every player. And after playing 40 games-plus, that’s a challenge in this league. They get beaten down and they still come at you.”

As for the outbreak of offensive diversity from unlikely sources, Hakstol said he’s hopeful but has seen enough hockey to know that just because the line clicked today is no guarantee of future success.

“Tonight it worked out,” he said. “Tomorrow night, who knows?

Minnesota 4 , Wisconsin 2
Team Goal Str
Time Assists
First Period
1-MN Blake Wheeler (15) EV
5:52 J. Barriball, B. Schack
1-WIS Davis Drewiske (4) EV
19:16 unassisted

Second Period

2-WIS Jake Dowell (18) EV
1:37 M. Olinger, J. Piskula
2-MN Mike Vannelli (10) EV
11:00 unassisted
3-MN Blake Wheeler (16) PP
19:56 A. Goligoski, M. Vannelli
Third Period
4-MN Blake Wheeler (17) EN
19:56 unassisted
WIS: Brian Elliott, 59:02, 21 saves, 3 GA (1 ENG)
MN: Kellen Briggs, 59:58, 29 saves, 2 GA
Penalties: WIS 5-10; MN 2-4
Power Plays: WIS 0-2; MN 1-5
Attendance: 19,359


It would be hard to identify anything miraculous about Kellen Briggs’ performance in goal on Friday, save for the fact that when the final horn sounded, he’d entered his name in the WCHA record book. Briggs finished with 29 saves in Minnesota’s 4-2 win, for his 83rd career victory. That ties Briggs with Adam Hauser for the Minnesota and WCHA career mark for wins.

The win, and the record, came after a fluky first Badgers goal. Davis Drewiske threw the puck toward the Minnesota net, only to see it hit the skate of Gophers defenseman Erik Johnson and deflect into the goal. Drewiske was credited with his fourth goal of the season, but just his second since he scored in both of the Badgers' first two games in October.

“That’s definitely one of the worst ways to get scored on, off your own guy, because he feels bad and you try to console him a little bit,” Briggs said. “That stuff happens. There are a lot of weird bounces out there.”

Even after Wisconsin took a 2-1 lead in the second, Gophers coach Don Lucia wouldn’t let his team dwell on the own goal, writing it off as a bad bounce, and moving on with no consoling of Johnson or Briggs.

“I think they’ve all been around it enough,” Lucia said. “If you’re a defenseman getting to this point in your career and you haven’t put one in, you haven’t been playing hockey. Kellen, I thought, was tremendous tonight.”

So the goalie heads into his final few collegiate games knowing that one more win and the record is his alone. But reflecting on the winning tradition at his school, Briggs made it sound like he’d be fine sharing the mark.

“It’s great honor for the University of Minnesota,” he said. “Adam Hauser had it before me and he played here. It just shows the winning tradition that Minnesota has. I’ve had a lot of great players play in front of me for the last four years. My hats are off to them.”

INCH's Three Stars
of the Night

3. Chris Porter, North Dakota
On the day he entered the WCHA record books, tying the mark for consecutive games played at 171, the senior win notched a goal and an assist as his team qualified for Saturday night hockey.

2. Chris VandeVelde, North Dakota
A few weeks ago he’d never scored a collegiate goal. Then he got one in St. Cloud. And Friday, versus those same Huskies, the ex-Moorhead Spud tripled his career total on the big stage.

1. Blake Wheeler, Minnesota
Wheeler’s first collegiate hat trick came three years and a week after his last high school hat trick. He was a junior at Breck then, and scored three times vs. Orono in the state title game on this same sheet of ice.


• Minnesota Duluth fans are having a “good news-bad news” kind of weekend.

Thursday was a good day as two Bulldog sophomores, forward Mason Raymond and defenseman Matt Niskanen, were named to the All-WCHA first team — an impressive showing considering the team’s ninth-place finish. Friday was the bad day, as Bulldog fans learned that the next time that pair will don UMD sweaters is for an alumni game, as both signed pro contracts. Niskanen is headed to the Dallas Stars’ AHL club in Des Moines, while Raymond heads north to Winnipeg to play for the Vancouver Canucks’ top farm club.

• While most teams prep for the playoffs with some quality time in the video booth, scouting their opponents, players from two of this tournament’s teams did some prep work in the barbers’ chair. Minnesota came out for last weekend’s first-round playoff series and revealed that all of the Gophers had bleached their hair blonde. Not to be out done, at least two members of the St. Cloud State team (Bobby Goepfert and Dan Kronick) showed up in St. Paul with their hair dyed bright red. When it comes to post-season grooming, we’re wondering what ever happened to the simple playoff beard.

• There’s been a fun “battle of the bands” happening at the rink thus far, with musical groups outnumbering teams Friday. During Thursday night’s game, the shorthanded Wisconsin band (spread thin due to the Badgers’ playing in the NCAA hoops playoffs and the women’s Frozen Four) tried a rendition of “In Heaven There Is No Beer” (Michigan Tech’s signature number) that was weak and embarrassing. The Husky Pep Band cranked into their own version a few seconds later, and blew the Wisconsinites out of the rink.

For Friday’s game, the Tech band hung around St. Paul despite their team being on a Houghton-bound bus, and played in the arena concourses while the bands from North Dakota and St. Cloud State played in the rink. It’s great to have the Tech band at the tournament, but we have to ask one favor, in the spirit of Reg Dunlop: “DON’T EVER PLAY ‘BARBIE GIRL’ AGAIN!”

• A suite hosted by St. Cloud State athletic director Morris Kurtz during Friday’s first game featured large color illustrations of what the proposed new three-story atrium entrance to the National Hockey Center will look like if the project goes forward. School and city officials have been lobbying at the state legislature, seeking $11 million in state bonds (and has pledged to raise another $3 million privately) for the project, which would include an enclosed entrance/lobby area, ticket windows, a merchandise store, team offices, and meeting rooms. According to former Huskies coach Craig Dahl, the project is expected to take two years to complete, and moving the lobby may free up room for a few hundred extra seats to be added behind the west goal.

Narrow focus: All eyes are on a bouncing puck steered aside by St. Cloud State goaltender Bobby Goepfert during North Dakota's 6-2 win over the Huskies Friday.


There was an entertaining mix of boos (from Gopher fans) and cheers (from everyone else) on Friday evening when the arena video board showed a row of four fans wearing purple Holy Cross sweaters. Hey, it hasn’t even been a year since the NCAA tournament’s most notable recent upset. The joke hasn’t gotten old for everyone yet.

It was great to see referee Jon Campion back on the ice wearing the stripes again. Campion had been out of action for nearly a month prior to working last weekend’s series in St. Cloud, while attending to his wife, Kelley, during the final days of her fight with cancer. He worked Friday’s evening game alongside assistant referees C.J. Beaurline and Dan Carey.

The first goal scored on Friday featured Jonathan Toews reminding everyone why he’s going to have a really nice condo near Lake Michigan before too long. With the Sioux on a power play, Toews waited until Bobby Goepfert dropped his left shoulder just enough to open up a puck-sized gap between sweater and post, then snapped a shot that found its way through the tiny opening, popping the water bottle for good measure. Sometimes, all you can say is, “Wow!”

North Dakota’s shiny green road sweaters are some of the sharpest duds in college hockey, so it was a big letdown to see the Sioux wearing those unattractive black, tight-fitting unis on Friday. If coach Hakstol and company don’t find a way to wear the green sweaters on Saturday (which, in case you’ve forgotten, is St. Patrick’s Day) they should begin the game with a two-minute minor from the fashion police.

Having grown up close to the home of the New York Islanders, maybe St. Cloud State goalie Bobby Goepfert can’t grasp the concept of an NHL building with a big crowd in it, but for whatever reason, his game suffers at the Xcel Energy Center. In his last three games there (two of them losses), Goepfert has now surrendered a total of 18 goals. For those statistics buffs in the audience, that’s a 6.00 goals-against average.


One gets the sense that Don Lucia is getting a little tired of hearing how good North Dakota has played in the last few months. When asked what his team’s plan was against the Fighting Sioux in Saturday’s title game, Don had a bit of a snappy answer.

“I know we don’t have a chance, that’s the consensus,” he said. “North Dakota is an outstanding team, there’s no question. They probably are playing the best hockey in the country right now and if you look since January 1, they’d probably be ranked number 1, and deservedly so.”

Still, with their five-game Xcel Energy Center losing streak snapped, and a full-throated crowd behind them, the Gophers will be a formidable foe as they and the Sioux look to tune up for eventual NCAA trips.

The third-place game features two teams with nothing to play for, but one is moving on and one is going home. St. Cloud State will get in, and don’t be surprised if Goepfert gets a rest tomorrow. Wisconsin is done, and as much as it’s a chance to showcase the team's goaltender of the future, Shane Connelly, we just can’t see Mike Eaves sitting Brian Elliott in the national champion and Hobey finalist’s last game in Bucky red.