April 9, 2004
NCAA Frozen Four
Long Way to Maine

By Joe Gladziszewski

BOSTON – College hockey rosters and line charts almost always list a player's hometown and previous team. Most of the names of previous teams are familiar, whether it's a prep school or junior program. A quick scan of Maine's roster reveals Dustin Penner's prior school as MSU-Bottineau. What the heck is MSU-Bottineau?

Bottineau is a small city in North Dakota, on the Canadian border. Population: approximately 3,500. MSU-Bottineau is a junior college with an enrollment of roughly 450 students and the Lumberjack hockey team plays an independent schedule against Division III teams, junior teams, and college junior varsity teams.

"Bottineau is a really small community, and the campus is small. It's a tight-knit community, and they love the hockey team up there," Penner said. "It's a really nice place to be and the team is really close. We all live in the same wing and have a lot of fun together."

And when the MSU-Bottineau Lumberjacks take the ice at the home barn they lovingly refer to as the "Lumberdome" approximately 700 fans pack the place.

That's where Dustin Penner began his college hockey career. He was a standout player and a late bloomer that caught the eye of Maine recruiting genius Grant Standbrook at an MVP Discovery Event in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. In fact, Standbrook was at the event to see a defenseman prospect. When Penner walked around this particular defenseman three times, it grabbed Standbrook's attention.

"I aksed him afterwards, 'Alright, you're 6-foot-4, 225 or 230, you're 19 ... you've either played Major A or you're not a good student,' and he said, 'Neither one' and it progressed from there," Standbrook said.

What a find it turned out to be. Penner has been one of Maine's best forwards over the course of three NCAA Tournament games and his line with Mike Hamilton and Jon Jankus has carried the scoring load. Standbrook's keen eye and good luck have made it a win-win-win situation for Penner, MSU-Bottineau, and the Black Bears.

"I owe a lot to him, pretty much everything I have in hockey, just for finding me," Penner said of Standbrook. "He's helped me out with a lot of little things in the game that will help me get farther in hockey."

But Standbrook is quick to praise Travis Rybchinski, the MSU-Bottineau head coach who was also a two-year captain of the Lumberjacks as a player.

"Travis did a great job with him, I know that Dustin speaks highly of him because he got him on track and got him focused and working off ice," Standbrook said.

In Rybchinski's opinion, Dustin Penner's emergence as a player might draw more attention to his program in the northern reaches of North Dakota. MSU-Bottineau has several national junior college championships, and is avidly following its prized alumnus.

MSU-Bottineau is merely a blip on the college hockey map, but they're a big reason why Maine's having such a great playoff run, and that tight-knit community will be pulling for the Black Bears on Saturday night.

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