Defending champs turn to Riddle for scoring punch

Adam Fink

Shortly after New Hampshire took an early lead last Friday night, Troy Riddle tied the score at one for Minnesota’s men’s hockey team on a crisp drive to the net from his right wing position.

With the score tied at four in the second period, Riddle slapped a powerful shot from the blue line past Wildcats goalie Mike Ayers to give the Gophers the advantage. New Hampshire ended up fighting for a tie, but Riddle’s play wasn’t lost in the locker room.

With point machines Johnny Pohl and Jeff Taffe gone, plays like the ones Riddle made in last Friday’s game are important. The young Gophers are searching for playmakers, a role Riddle is only too happy to fill.

“It’s my turn to step up and be one of those leaders,” Riddle said. “I watched Pohl, Taffe, (Jordan) Leopold and those guys do it last season. It’s how it goes. You watch and learn and then you it’s your turn.”

Already this season, the 5-foot-10, 175-pounder is becoming a goalie’s nightmare and a leader on the ice.

Consistency and solid effort are nothing new to Riddle and the Gophers (1-1-1). The junior scored 47 points last season while establishing himself as the third highest scorer among Minnesota forwards.

The Gophers opened their season playing a jittery, error-prone first period against Ohio State on Oct. 12. Riddle broke open the Gophers’ slim 1-0 lead with an impressive unassisted goal 48 seconds into the period. On the play, he went the length of the ice untouched, weaving around Buckeyes before scoring on a backhand shot.

After he scored, the Gophers settled down and ended up with an easy 7-2 win. Thus far, Riddle’s six points (four goals and two assists) in three games is tied for first among Minnesota’s players.

“I feel my asset to the team is on the ice,” Riddle said. “Point totals don’t mean anything to me. I just want to get out there, lead by example and help the team.”

Riddle won’t have to worry about his ice time. The Minneapolis native has become one of the go-to forwards and is now on the ice during power plays, penalty kills and decisive moments – the minutes that used to go to other guys.

“The biggest thing for Troy is Johnny graduated,” coach Don Lucia said. “Johnny was always out there when we needed something big. He is getting those significant minutes now.

“He has probably been our best forward through our first three games.”

Riddle didn’t get to this status overnight.

An athlete of many sports, Riddle began playing hockey because his dad, Mark, got him competing.

However, it was the days playing against his younger brother, Jake, in the backyard that changed the elder Riddle. The younger Riddle currently plays for the Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL.

“We used to compete, and it really motivated me,” Riddle said, as a smile broke across his face. “Actually, we still compete all the time.”

A highly touted recruit out of Benilde-St. Margaret’s High School, Riddle spent one year competing for the Des Moines Buccaneers of the USHL League.

After putting in his time in Iowa and two years of learning as a Gopher, Riddle is ready to lead Minnesota during its title defense this season.

However, the pressure it takes to keep Minnesota as a national contender is far from his mind.

“Everyone keeps asking how we can replace the guys we lost,” Riddle said. “This year’s juniors and seniors watched a great group last season. They instilled a lot into us, especially about just doing our thing on the ice. That’s what we are trying to do.”

Practice at the Ridder

The third-ranked Gophers practiced at Ridder Arena, home to the women’s hockey team, on Wednesday.

Mariucci Arena is an Olympic size rink, where Ridder is the ice sheet size the Gophers will play on at Michigan Tech this weekend.

In the past, Minnesota would bus to Augsburg to compete on a smaller rink. With the completion of Ridder, the team instead took a short, underground trip to the new facility.

No new injuries

Lucia reported no new injuries this week for the game with the Huskies.