Gophers ‘Bear’ awakens from scoring hibernation

Adam Fink

Barry Tallackson would draw eyes on his hockey stick, hoping the symbolic gesture would help the puck find the back of the net. He would hear encouragement from Minnesota’s men’s hockey coaching staff and his parents, who told him to be patient.

And he would constantly remind himself his scoreless drought would eventually end.

Nevertheless, as the Gophers entered the stretch run in mid-February, Tallackson – who missed nine games after suffering a shoulder injury in late October – sat with two assists on the season. Even worse, Tallackson had a goal-less streak of 23 games, dating back to last season.

“I was frustrated,” Tallackson said. “I wanted to step up every night, and it wasn’t happening.”

Now, the eyes have shifted from Tallackson’s stick to his presence on the ice.

Since getting the breakout game against Wisconsin on Feb. 15, when he scored two goals, Tallackson’s statistics – and confidence – have increased. In the past 13 games, the sophomore has tallied 13 points.

Tallackson is starting to live up to expectations and is a key reason Minnesota (24-8-9) is playing its best hockey of the season heading into the team’s NCAA West Regional game against Mercyhurst on Friday.

Game time at Mariucci Arena is set for 7:30 p.m. against the Lakers.

“I didn’t feel 100 percent,” the St. Paul native said. “Now I feel like I am winning every battle and am becoming one of the go-to guys on this team.

“My role has flip-flopped since earlier this season.”

Tallackson admits he made a mistake when the season began, telling the media he wanted to fill the offensive void left by Johnny Pohl and Jeff Taffe.

As the top incoming freshman in the nation according to the Red Line Report and after a 23-point rookie year, Tallackson had the credentials to fuel expectations.

But when he started the season slowly and then was sidelined with the first injury of his career, doubts surfaced about Tallackson’s ability to lead the team. And although he wanted – and still wants – to be in that leadership position, he did feel the pressure to perform.

“Things didn’t happen like I would have wanted them too,” Tallackson said. “I had high expectations for myself and I wasn’t contributing in the way I should.”

That has since changed.

Tallackson finally started feeling comfortable on the ice again at Colorado College on Feb. 7-8 – nearly two and half months after the injury. And the 6-foot-4, 200-pound wing – nicknamed “Bear” by his teammates – is close to 100 percent healthy.

Minnesota is 4-0 in the playoffs and Tallackson’s line – which includes captain Grant Potulny and freshman Gino Guyer – is currently the most productive group for the Gophers.

In the four wins, Tallackson’s line has scored 10 of Minnesota’s 15 goals and recorded 16 points.

“Barry has really been opening up the ice for us,” Guyer said. “He has the best hands I have seen for a guy his size.”

Gophers coach Don Lucia, who describes Tallackson as the complete package, has noticed a difference in the sophomore’s demeanor around the locker room and on the ice.

“He has the rare combination of size, skill and speed,” Minnesota’s fourth-year coach said. “After he scored that first goal, everything changed for him. He isn’t afraid to speak his mind, and his confidence is soaring right now.

“The emergence of that line is a big reason for our success.”

Minnesota is 11-2-2 in its last 15 games, which coincides with the return of Potulny and Tallackson to the lineup.

Although he didn’t put up consistent numbers until recently, Tallackson looks favorably on this season because he learned how to deal with adversity and is now making a difference in the team’s run to defend its national title.

“I just want to keep making plays,” Tallackson said. “We are in a good position right now, but there is still unfinished business this

season.”