Westrum surges to fill offensive void

Sarah Mitchell

ORONO, Maine — Down 5-4 with little more than 1:30 remaining in Minnesota’s men’s hockey game against Maine on Sunday, Gophers center Erik Westrum took a backhand shot at Bears goaltender Mike Morrision.
The slap shot sailed with potential, but skipped off Morrison’s right arm and into Alfond Arena’s upper deck.
A disappointed Westrum skated along the boards and subtly pounded the butt of his stick against the ice. The message was clear.
“I should have had that. I came around and I waited one second too long,” Westrum said. “His glove was down. He didn’t know what I was going to do. I thought I had the upper corner, but I didn’t get as much as I should have on it and it didn’t go in. I should have scored.”
Minnesota (0-2 overall) lost 5-4. The game-tying goal would have been Westrum’s fifth of the two-game series.
After dumping two goals past Bears goalie Matt Yeats on Friday, Maine coach Shawn Walsh thought that by shadowing Westrum he could silence him on the ice. But the crafty Westrum found ways to score.
“I showed my team before the game clips of him getting checked by us and bouncing into the play and making another play, just his persistence as a player,” Walsh said. “It didn’t matter.”
Walsh won’t be the only opposing coach scratching his head this season. After putting up modest numbers the past two seasons — Westrum now has 58 points on 20 goals and 38 assists — the Gophers co-captain appears to be the answer to the loss of forwards Reggie Berg and Wyatt Smith.
Berg and Smith graduated after last season and took 43 goals with them. Westrum’s potential, however, might not stop at topping Minnesota’s scoring chart.
At least not in the opinion of Walsh.
“We tried to shadow him (Sunday) and just pay attention to him. He still got two,” Walsh said. “He’s a legitimate All-American, Hobey Baker candidate.”
Walsh wasn’t alone in his praise. Gophers coach Don Lucia also appreciated Westrum’s season-opening play.
“He was big time all weekend long,” Lucia said. “He was certainly our best player.”
With that, Westrum hits the ice at practice this week looking to get two wins back next weekend and doing what he does best.
Minnesota’s co-captain said he differs from his counterparts — senior forward Nate Miller and junior defenseman Dylan Mills — by being less vocal off the ice, but making an impact in the rink.
“You have me on the ice,” Westrum said. “Off the ice I don’t say much. I just try to lead by example out on the ice.”
From his play this weekend, the younger players got a sense of that.

Sarah Mitchell covers men’s hockey and welcomes comments at [email protected]