Hirsch, Tallackson ratchet up games down stretch

by Adam Fink

Freshman Tyler Hirsch received the puck at the blue line, weaved around Denver defenseman Ryan Caldwell and proceeded to score past All-American goaltender Wade Dubielewicz in the second period last Saturday night.

It was Hirsch’s second goal of the night, closing the deficit to one. Later in the period, sophomore Barry Tallackson broke a 4-4 tie with the first of two tallies he would record in a game Minnesota went on to win 8-5.

Heading into this weekend’s regular season finale against St. Cloud State, Minnesota (19-8-8, 14-6-6 WCHA) is finally receiving goals from players not named Thomas Vanek and Troy Riddle.

“We need everyone contributing,” Hirsch said. “Our high scorers aren’t going to have their ‘A’ game every night.”

In the past seven games, Hirsch has tallied nine points. Four of Tallackson’s six points came in February. Other players include Garrett Smaagaard, who tallied his first two goals of the season last month, and Jake Fleming, who continues to impress the coaching staff.

Coach Don Lucia has noticed a higher confidence level in the aforementioned players.

“You can see they are feeling better about themselves,” Lucia said. “They are wearing bigger smiles. There is a noticeable difference in them in the locker room.”

The emerging scorers are providing relief for Vanek (24 goals) and Riddle (22), but also proving the team can win without the duo carrying the scoring load.

In Minnesota’s past five games, the Gophers have gone 3-1-1 with Vanek and Riddle scoring in only one of those wins.

As a result of the balanced scoring and newfound confidence, the Gophers have increased their scoring average to 4.11 goals per game.

“We have relied on Vanek and Riddle for so long,” Lucia said. “But for us to be successful in the playoffs, we need more guys stepping up their games.”

Middle of the pack

Heading into the final weekend of the WCHA regular season, four teams can finish between fourth and seventh place.

Minnesota-Duluth (30 points), North Dakota (29), Denver (28) and St. Cloud State (28) are all fighting for a top-five finish and the right to host the first round of the conference playoffs.

Colorado College, Minnesota State-Mankato and Minnesota have locked up home ice in the first round.

“The middle looks different than in recent years,” Lucia said. “It just shows how important this weekend is.”

The Bulldogs are in the best position to lock up a host position, needing only two points against ninth-place Michigan Tech this weekend to assure themselves of the fourth seed.

North Dakota, which faces eighth-place Wisconsin, needs three points to guarantee the final host position.

Third-placed Minnesota can finish no worse than tied for third, but with three points this weekend, can move into second.

The numbers game

ï Lucia, who recently agreed to a contract extension, is two wins away from 100 as Minnesota’s coach, meaning he could reach the mark with a sweep this weekend. Lucia’s mark currently sits at 98-48-16.

The Gophers’ fourth-year coach currently sits in sixth place on the all-time roster.

Larry Armstrong (1935-1947) stands in fifth place with 123 wins.

In addition, Lucia is two wins behind St. Cloud State coach Craig Dahl (378 wins) for most active conference victories.

ï Thomas Vanek became the latest Gopher to total 50 points in his

rookie campaign.

Jay Cates was the last Minnesota rookie to cross the half-century mark when he scored 53 points in 1986.

The Graz, Austria, native is only four points behind North Dakota’s Zach Parise for the national freshman lead.

ï Senior Matt DeMarchi is seven minutes from breaking Minnesota’s all-time penalty minute mark.

With five penalties last weekend against Denver, the defenseman stands with 446 minutes logged in the box.

The record of 453 was set by Chris McAlpine (1990-1994).

Adam Fink covers men’s hockey and welcomes comments at [email protected]