It must have been a big blow for Minnesota men’s hockey coach Don Lucia. He lost his leading goal scorer late Wednesday afternoon heading into this weekend’s series against North Dakota, the third-ranked team in the nation. Some would even call it a big kick in the teeth.
Or the chest.
In an uncommon move, the WCHA extended the suspension of Minnesota junior forward Erik Westrum another game. Westrum will sit out Friday’s contest in Grand Forks, but will play Saturday night.
Westrum — who leads the team in both goals and penalty minutes — received a five minute major and a game misconduct in overtime of last Friday’s 7-6 win over Denver for kicking Pioneer defenseman Erik Adams.
Under NCAA rules, a player who receives a game misconduct is suspended for the team’s next game. Westrum sat out last Saturday’s Denver game and was preparing to return to action this weekend.
But WCHA Commissioner Bruce McLeod reviewed a tape of the game and tacked on an extra game suspension Tuesday. Minnesota appealed the decision today, but the suspension stood.
Lucia said Wednesday he didn’t like the idea of administrators deciding penalties.
“I don’t like the way (hockey) is headed,” Lucia said. “We have a rule book for a reason. I think it was the right call, but it was a reactionary penalty, not a premeditated one, and he’s served his suspension.
“I’ve watched it five times, and to me he was pushing the guy off with his foot, not kicking with his heel or toe.”
Lucia also said he felt a couple non-calls against Minnesota this year were more dangerous than Westrum’s leg thrust from his back.
Forwards Pat O’Leary and Dave Spehar both suffered concussions in Anchorage and St. Cloud, respectively, after dangerous checks drove them headfirst into the boards.
Westrum was visibly upset after Lucia informed the team the suspension would stand.
Before practice, Westrum was confident he would be skating in both weekend contests.
“I’ll be surprised if it goes that far and I’ll be really disappointed. It’s a natural reaction to try and push someone off you with your feet,” Westrum said.
The loss of Westrum comes at an inopportune time for the Gophers, who are trying to add to a four-game winning streak. The last time Minnesota left North Dakota with a win was February 12, 1994.
The Sioux are in pursuit of a record fourth consecutive MacNaughton Cup as WCHA champions. Those hopes were lessened after two overtime losses to league-leading Wisconsin last weekend.
The loss of Westrum will also cost Minnesota an extra defenseman Lucia badly wanted to bring to Grand Forks.
The team can only bring one player who will not play on the road, a spot which Westrum will fill Friday, leaving someone else at home. Should a Minnesota blue-liner go down, the Gophers will probably be forced to skate with just five defensemen.
The top shelf
Red-hot sophomore forward John Pohl was named WCHA co-offensive player of the week for his three-goal, eight-point effort last week against Denver. Pohl joins Wisconsin’s Steve Reinprecht as the only players to win the award twice this year.
The Fighting Sioux will have a new look for the Gophers this weekend. North Dakota unveiled the third in a series of logos last November. The Sioux wore jerseys with a Blackhawk logo until 1993, when they switched to a geometric version of a man wearing a headdress.
The new logo is more human- looking and has drawn criticism from Native Americans in Grand Forks, despite having been designed by Native American artist Bennet Brien.
Josh Linehan covers men’s hockey andwelcomes comments at [email protected]