MINNEAPOLIS – When
I think of Keith Ballard's hometown, I always think of cars. Ballard,
a sophomore defenseman for Minnesota, hails from the tiny hamlet
of Baudette, Minn. In addition to being home of Willie the Walleye
(which is likely the largest concrete depiction of a fish in the
218 area code) Baudette is the county seat of Lake of the Woods
County, which just happens to be the most sparsely populated of
Minnesota's 87 counties. That might have something to do with
the fact that roughly one-third of the county is a lake, but that's
One reason for the connection in my head between Baudette and
cars is that in the summer of 1985, my mother drove me the 36
miles from my hometown to Baudette to take my drivers' license
test. I scored a 76 (out of a possible 100) to become a licensed
driver in Minnesota. I still offer proof of my success that day
now and then when I enter bars and the bouncer says, "I.D.,
Mike Brown, Ferris State
D: Keith Ballard, Minnesota
D: Matt DeMarchi, Minnesota
F: Thomas Vanek, Minnesota (MVP)
F: Chris Kunitz, Ferris State
F: Grant Potulny, Minnesota
for the connection is that I remember coming out of a movie at
the Baudette Theater one night on a date when I was in high school
and it was approximately 261 below zero (not an uncommon thing
when you live on the Canadian border). I promptly flooded my red
and white 1980 Citation, killed the battery, and had to call my
parents to come give the girl and me a ride home. I had better
dates. I'm guessing she did too.
his Gopher teammates spent much of this past season performing
like my old Citation in cold
weather. Namely, getting them started was a chore. Barely a month
ago, in their final regular season home
series at Mariucci Arena, the Gophers found themselves trailing
Denver by three goals in the second period on two consecutive
nights. That they came back for a tie and a win in those two games
is a testament to the talent and drive that Don Lucia has assembled.
there have been no comebacks necessary in Gopherland. In the WCHA
Final Five title game versus Colorado College (then ranked #1
in the nation), it was 3-0 for Minnesota 5:25 into the game. In
the NCAA West Regional opener versus Mercyhurst, it took 65 seconds
for the Gophers to get a lead. And Saturday in the Gophers bid
for a return trip to the Frozen Four, it was 1-0 after 13 seconds,
and 2-0 after 98 seconds.
named to the All-Regional team after scoring three goals and adding
an assist this weekend. He says that the rapid change from slow
starting to first-minute explosions has been a matter of self-education.
be one of those situations where you learn from your mistakes,"
Ballard said. "We're ready to play, finally."
to Thomas Vanek, the regional's MVP, the quick starts have been
the best way to get a persistent coaching staff off of the players'
of got sick of the coaches yelling at us, so we picked it up right
away," said Vanek, with a laugh.
it's not a matter of persistence. His feeling is one of relief
and of the growth that his team has experienced since opening
the season on October 12 versus Ohio State.
through the WCHA season, I think we had 12 goals in the first
period, which was last in the league," he said. "We've
developed a lot from where we were in the fall to where we are
those trips to Ballard's hometown when I was a teen, I could say
the same about myself. One certainly develops a little bit between
the ages of 16 and 33. But in that time, I've learned some of
the same things that the Gophers have learned over the course
of the 2002-03 season. Namely, that no matter what the Shell Answer
Man says, a jackrabbit start beats a cold weather start anytime.
MOVIES, GOOD HOCKEY
Envision the plot of a really bad revenge drama. You
know, something starring Patrick Swayze in one of those grainy
VHS flicks that's next to "Ishtar" and
"Timecop" on the near-empty shelves of your neighborhood
Mr. Movies late on a Friday night when there's a blizzard coming.
In this film, a young hotshot sniper seeks to revenge something
bad that happened years ago to a member of his family that he
Sounds bad, right? For Ferris State, a version of that plot amounted
to a nightmare.
Matt Koalska took just 13 seconds to put his Golden Gopher teammates
up 1-0 on Ferris State in the waning light of a Saturday afternoon
in Minneapolis. In doing so, Koalska nearly broke a NCAA regional
record for quickest goal at the start of a game, a mark set Friday
by New Hampshire's Colin Hemingway, who scored 10 seconds into
the Wildcats' win against St. Cloud State.
But here's where it gets really interesting: Koalska's effort
one-upped Michigan's Brendan Morrison who, a few weeks before
he won the 1997 Hobey Baker Award, set the record by scoring 33
seconds into a NCAA regional game versus Minnesota. The final
score that day for Michigan, the defending NCAA champs in 1997,
The Wolverines stormed into Milwaukee that year and most thought
them repeating as NCAA champs was a foregone conclusion. That's
before Boston University derailed the Berenson Express 3-2 in
the Frozen Four semis, in one of the greatest hockey games ever
So for all of the die-hard Gopher fans out there, congrats on
a return trip to the Frozen. But don't print those "2003
NCAA champs" T-shirts just yet.
SEEN AND HEARD AT MARIUCCI
• How about this stat: In two games at the NCAA West Regional,
the Gophers put 105 shots on goal, and 16 of them went in. Either
Al Montoya or Curtis McElhinney should be ready for a busy afternoon
in Buffalo in 10 days.
• Despite their 9-2 loss in the opener, the members of Mercyhurst's
team (and about a dozen Laker fans) were in the audience on Saturday
afternoon for the regional final.
Not so for North Dakota, which has been known to flee the scene
of the crime shortly after a loss. The Sioux left Minneapolis
not long after their loss to Ferris State and were likely tucked
into their dorm rooms on the banks of the English Coulee before
the puck was dropped between the Gophers and Bulldogs. That's
par for the course for Dean Blais, who celebrated the 1997 NCAA
title by loading his team back on the bus shortly after the championship
game for an 11-hour bus ride to Grand Forks.
INCH's West Regional
Mike Brown, Ferris State He
stopped 44 to beat North Dakota and stopped 42 in the loss
to Minnesota. Never has a goalie looked so solid giving up
Gino Guyer, Minnesota He's
not among those who scored the team's 16 goals, and got so
frustrated at one point on Saturday that he slammed his stick
to the ice in anger. But his five Friday night assists stand
as a regional record. Not bad for a freshman.
Thomas Vanek, Minnesota Goalies
aren't concerned with stopping the Austrian sensation's
shots. They're hoping just to see them. In his rookie year,
and especially in Minnesota's playoff tour de force, Vanek's
recent trend of launching rockets at opportune times has been
the biggest factor in
Minnesota's return to the Frozen Four.
concerned is Don Lucia about providing bulletin board material
for the opposition? Concerned enough that he's willing to throw
the notion of "free speech" out the window, at least
in regard to his players.
In the press conference after the Ferris State game, Keith Ballard
and Thomas Vanek were asked if they would prefer to open the Frozen
Four versus Michigan (which beat the Gophers 3-1 on Dec. 1) or
Colorado College (against whom the Gophers were 2-2-1 this year).
Before either player could respond, Lucia leaned into his microphone
and said, "Don't answer that!" His exclamation was greeted
with laughter by the media, but the players were dismissed without
answering any more questions.
being blitzed by Minnesota to the tune of 5-2 (out-shot 25-6)
in the first period, what did coach Bob Daniels tell his Ferris
State team in the locker room? Nothing. At least not right away.
"I waited outside for a while, and had to take a few minutes
to collect myself," said Daniels. "After that, I reminded
the guys that we're not that bad, and they're not that good. We
just ran into a pretty good hockey team in the first period. They
jumped us pretty good."
To the two guys in Section 22, Row 4 who decided to have a little
fun with their game day togs. Anyone can put on a Gopher sweater
when heading to Mariucci, but to get together with your buddy
and make a statement is the extra effort we like come playoff
time. The gentleman in Seat 2 wore the home white of the Charlestown
Chiefs. Seat 1's occupant donned the road orange of the Syracuse
Bulldogs. Waiting for these neighbors to drop 'em and go was more
exciting that anything on the ice.
To Doug Woog, for proving once again that he knows a little bit
about pucks. Before the game a friend was saying how impressive
Ferris State looked versus North Dakota and what a good game the
Bulldogs would give Minnesota. Woog said he wasn't as impressed
with Ferris as others, and predicted that Minnesota would storm
them from the start. Perhaps the 389 college games Woog won weren't
To the selectors of the All-Regional Team. Gino Guyer sets a NCAA
record with five assists, and he's not one of the top six in the
tourney? What's a guy gotta do?
To the Ferris State band. Thanks for making the trip. You added
some nice atmosphere and some new tunes to the rink. But launching
into your school song 10 seconds after the Gopher band starts
playing its own school song just creates a musical mess.
Minnesota in Buffalo should devise a slowdown game plan. And pay
special attention to the game's first two minutes. After being
a slow-starting team for much of the season, the Gophers are exploding
out of the blocks as of late.
have 12 days before their next game. But not all of the players
are looking for a little time to rest and relax before shuffling
off to Buffalo.
"I wish it was tomorrow," said Vanek. "Well, maybe
a day or two off, but we're ready to play now."