New Riddle helps solve Gophers questions

David La

For all the upside shown by freshman Troy Riddle, the impressive addition to Minnesota’s hockey team struggles to get past one set of numbers: 5-foot-11, 175 pounds.
Professional scouts stare at Riddle’s dimensions like a magic eye picture. Many fail to see the player hidden behind.
Through six games, a closer look shows the scrappy speed merchant tied for the team lead in goals and third in total points.
Drafted in the fourth round of the 2000 NHL Entry Draft, Riddle continues to dispell questions about his size with stand-out play.
While three more inches and 20 more pounds would make scouts drool, the determined Riddle is content to just change perceptions.
“In reality, it’s not really about size,” Riddle said. “If you can play the body, take a hit and score a goal, it doesn’t matter what size you are.”
Throughout his career, Riddle has shown flashes of all three attributes.
Riddle led the state in scoring while captaining Benilde-St. Margaret’s High School to the Minnesota Class A championship.
“His passion for the puck and his speed were beyond anyone else at that level,” Red Knights coach Ken Pauly said. “God and Troy made Troy good. He’s got great innate ability and he’s worked his ass off, quite frankly.”
One year before winning it all, Riddle’s Benilde-St. Margaret team squared off with defending state champion Red Wing, led by senior Johnny Pohl.
Down 3-0 to the Wingers late in the game, a frustrated Riddle took out his anger on an unknowing Pohl. Riddle’s full-speed blow popped Pohl’s helmet off.
“I was so furious that we were losing, I just buried him,” Riddle said. “That was probably the best hit of my career. I just stood there amazed at how much power I got on the check.”
Riddle’s impact on the Gophers is not as shocking, but every bit as forceful. Riddle was a top college prospect and the jewel of the Gophers recruiting class. WCHA coaches voted Riddle as the preseason co-rookie of the year.
“He’s everything we expected,” Minnesota coach Don Lucia said. “He’s off to a great start. He sticks his nose in there, too. That’s what you want to see.”
Last season, Riddle played for the USHL’s Des Moines Buccaneers, finishing second in both goals (36) and penalty minutes (95), while solidifying himself as an ideal winger; one who can blow by or blow up opposing players.
“He looked at times in high school to be a one-way player,” Buccaneers coach Tom Carroll said. “In our preseason he scored goals, but he also blocked shots. You could recognize early on that Troy wasn’t just a perimeter player, he was someone that had something special.”
Driving Riddle is an intense desire and passion for the game. The goals he scores have much to do with keen anticipation and feel. Coaches laud Riddle’s intuitive play, a style fueled by improvisation.
“We joke about having systems, but when you’re in the heat of the moment, you just want to get the puck and go bang it home,” Riddle said. “You do that by beating guys to the outside, forcing turnovers and making things happen.”
Riddle’s exciting style and breathtaking speed make him an early season fan favorite.
In four games at home this season, Riddle unofficially leads the team in crowd anticipation. Everytime Riddle takes the puck up ice, the rumbling begins.
The newcomer aims to please by playing his brand of inspired, energetic hockey.
“Hopefully they’re saying, ‘He’s playing for his team, he’s playing to win and not being a jerk-off out there,” Riddle said. “He’s playing for the right to wear the jersey.'”

David La Vaque covers men’s hockey and welcomes comments at [email protected]