U’s fourth line sets example

Tim Nichols

COLORADO SPRINGS — For most of the season, sophomore winger Stuart Senden wallows in obscurity. He’s just another third- or fourth-liner, doing his best to give quality minutes to the team.
But something strange happens when he plays against Denver. As if the planets become mystically aligned, or the phase of the moon is just right, the Alexandria, Minn., native becomes the center of attention.
The first twist of fate happened last year at Mariucci when Senden scored the greatest goal he had nothing to do with.
A Denver defender took the puck in front of Pioneers goaltender Stephen Wagner, faked left, then right, back to his left and beat his own goalie top-shelf for the goal. Senden, being the last Gopher to touch the puck, was credited with the goal — the first of his career.
Senden’s second memorable goal came in the first period of Saturday’s 3-3 tie. In typical fourth-liner fashion, Senden charged down the ice with a Pioneer on his back, shot the puck while sliding, and beat Wagner for the goal.
“I don’t know if it’s dumb luck,” Senden said of his success against Denver. “Well, the first goal is, but this one I worked hard for.”
All anomalies aside, Senden and freshman linemates John Pohl and Eric Wendell have been putting out consistent, aggressive efforts. And the Denver series was no exception.
“I was really happy with John Pohl’s line,” coach Doug Woog said. “They gave a good, grinding effort. They probably have the best plus-minus over the last five games of anyone on our team.”
Actually, Pohl-Wendell-Senden line has the best plus-minus rating of any combined line on the team — although at minus-3 they aren’t exactly setting the world on fire.
Then again, they aren’t out to make Gretzky-esque plays every game. These are not the guys who are expected to light the scoreboard up or work crowds into a frenzy with amazing plays. Their jobs are to wear out the opposition while giving teammates a chance to rest.
Basically, it is their job to keep up the intensity.
“We’re being consistent,” Senden said, “especially with the way we’ve been playing. And once you’ve got a good line, you can play this way.”
The Gophers have been in a bit of a freefall lately, with no one to blame but themselves. Minnesota has shot itself in the skates time and again due to a lack of a steady effort.
But the Denver series indicated that if Minnesota can maintain a level of intensity, the puck will find the back of the net sooner or later.
“I thought we dominated in the third period (of Saturday’s game),” sophomore Erik Westrum said. “If we come out and play like that every period, the stats will take care of themselves.”
If the Gophers are looking for an example of how to play three periods of hard-nosed, aggressive hockey, all they have to do is follow the lead of Senden and the rest of the fourth line.