Kraft makes turnaround after taking bad penalty

by Michael Rand

MADISON, Wisc. — Sometimes getting into the shower before anyone else has its advantages: There’s always plenty of hot water and, in case of a time crunch, you know you’re not going to get left out.
On Friday night at Wisconsin, however, Gophers hockey player Ryan Kraft was less than ecstatic about being the first one in the shower. His coach, Doug Woog, might have been even more unhappy.
The junior was given a five minute major penalty and a game misconduct for checking Wisconsin defenseman Tim Rothering from behind late in the second period of the series opener.
As other members of the team quietly took off their equipment after a disappointing 3-1 loss, Kraft sat fully dressed, having showered after his early exit. It was one of his lowest moments as a member of the Gophers.
“There were some tears in the eyes,” Kraft said. “I need to be out there to help the team. You can’t make dumb plays like that.”
Woog was clearly upset at Kraft’s penalty. Not only did it come with the score tied 1-1, but it was also Kraft’s second checking-from-behind major penalty of the season.
Woog said Friday night that he decided to bench Kraft for Saturday’s game.
“We need to instill discipline,” Woog said.
But after discussing the situation with his assistant coaches and captains Mike Crowley, Casey Hankinson and Nick Checco on Saturday morning, Woog had a change of heart.
“We just told (Woog) that obviously it was a check-from-behind, but he wasn’t trying to hurt the guy,” Crowley said.
Instead of having the Moorhead, Minn., native sit out the game, Woog decided to give Kraft new life.
“For Krafty, it just wouldn’t have been a good situation,” Woog said. “The point I was trying to make was for others.”
Kraft said, “I woke up Saturday morning optimistic that Coach would change his mind.”
Kraft got his wish, and Woog got his reward. There was no early shower Saturday night.
Just over six minutes into the game, Kraft put the Gophers ahead 1-0 when he picked up a loose puck behind the Wisconsin net, skated out to the front of the net and buried a 12-foot wrist shot over the shoulder of Badgers goalie Kirk Daubenspeck.
“When that one went in, it was like — oof — what a big relief,” Kraft said.
His strong play continued throughout the night, and in the third period, he added a different wrinkle to his game.
After beating a Wisconsin defender at the Badgers’ blue line, Kraft skated in on Daubenspeck all alone. But instead of picking a spot and shooting — something he normally does — Kraft faked to his forehand and slid the puck between the goalie’s legs on his backhand.
“It must have rolled off my stick,” he said jokingly.
Woog said one player rarely makes a difference in a game. But in the Gophers’ win, he said, a player whose status was in limbo the morning of the game ended up being a factor by himself.
“For him personally, it turned out to be a good decision,” Woog said. “It also turned out to be a good team decision.”
Kraft’s two-goal game wasn’t just important in the context of what happened Friday night — it acted as a jump-start for a season in which he’s being counted upon to be a top goal-scorer for the Gophers. No one expected him to make up for the loss of Brian Bonin, but he clearly has a big role on the team.
There may have been increased pressure because his point production dropped by nine from his freshman and sophomore years. In the five games before Saturday, Kraft had two goals and an assist. Both of his goals had come in Minnesota’s 7-4 loss to Minnesota-Duluth.
“This could be the turning point for him,” Woog said.