Anderson braves a family tragedy

Michael Rand

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — When Mike Anderson’s slap shot from the right circle found its way between Judd Lambert’s pads in the first period of the Gophers hockey team’s 3-0 win at Colorado College on Saturday, it is unlikely many people recognized its significance in a scope larger than the game at hand.
The Minnesota fans in attendance cheered and the Tigers’ fans fell silent when the sophomore from Bloomington put his team ahead 2-0.
But for Anderson, it was more than just a goal — it was a small reward for a very emotionally difficult couple of weeks.
Anderson’s grandfather, Robert, passed away early Thursday morning, less than 12 hours before the team’s scheduled flight to Colorado Springs. The two of them were very close, often times going hunting and fishing together.
“He loved hockey,” Anderson said, adding with special emphasis, “He saw me score a goal at Mariucci Arena,” earlier this season against Michigan Tech.
Robert Anderson developed cancer a year ago and went into remission two months ago. In the days prior to his grandfather’s death, Anderson’s attention was divided.
“It was tougher last weekend because he was dying. I didn’t get a whole lot of sleep,” Anderson said. “Last Friday and Saturday, I came right from the hospital to the rink (for games against Minnesota-Duluth). It was tough mentally and physically.”
Anderson also scored a goal in that series, on a shot very similar to the one against the Tigers. He said he isn’t the type of person to dedicate a season to someone or something, but his grandfather did serve as a motivator.
“To see someone’s will to live like that was incredible,” Anderson said. “I thought to myself, `How could I ever be lazy?'”
He braced himself for the possibility that his grandfather might not live through the week, and that the two games the Gophers played in the Mariucci Classic in late December might be the last ones Robert Anderson would see him play.
Anderson talked with Gophers coach Doug Woog prior to this weekend’s series to let him know he was coming with the team no matter what the situation was.
He knew it was the right thing to do.
“My grandpa would want me to be here,” Anderson said. “Hockey is my life.”
After a forgettable performance on Friday night, Woog considered replacing Anderson in the lineup with Brent Godbout for Saturday’s game.
Instead, he opted to give the right winger another chance.
“He struggled last night. But he’s such a team player,” Woog said after Saturday’s game. “He earned himself a spot with his attitude. He’s very unselfish, and he cares a lot about the team.”
His season statistics — nine goals and nine assists — aren’t near the top of the list of Minnesota’s leading scorers. But he seldom avoids a loose puck or a hard check.
Anderson’s goal came during a situation that typifies his style of play. He took a pass from linemate Rico Pagel in the neutral zone and charged hard up the right boards. As a Tigers’ defenseman closed in, he fired from the right circle.
Instead of dumping the puck into the corner or taking a chance on the play developing, he unloaded. He didn’t wait for something to happen. He made something happen.
Perhaps that’s the greatest lesson he learned over the past couple of weeks.
“I’ve worked harder because of this,” Anderson said. “I will never take my Gopher uniform for granted.”