Hirsch puts hockey struggles into perspective

Lou Raguse

Late in Saturday’s men’s hockey game against now top-ranked North Dakota, Minnesota forward Tyler Hirsch’s stick jammed into a Sioux player’s skate. Hirsch ripped the stick out and shrugged off the two referees who pulled the sophomore away, resulting in a misconduct penalty.

The sequence was the epitome of the Gophers’ frustration during the weekend sweep.

The losses had personal meaning for Hirsch, who played hockey at Shattuck-St. Mary’s high school in Faribault, Minn., with four of the Sioux’s top players. The Sabres’ top line featured Hirsch alongside North Dakota stars Zach Parise and Brady Murray.

But the bigger significance of the series losses – Minnesota falling out of the national rankings with a 2-6, 1-5 WCHA record – left Hirsch giving honest reasons for the Gophers’ poor play. And most importantly, he offered honest solutions for the team to work out of its hole.

It might have started during Saturday’s game.

“We were playing mad, and I think that’s the first step – to get pissed off and say, ‘Okay, this is enough,’ ” Hirsch said.

That game was a night after Hirsch and his teammates questioned the team’s effort. But playing mad did not stop the Gophers from squandering a two-goal, first-period lead.

Hirsch described the Gophers’ emotion during the loss not as anger, but as “poor old me anger,” blaming the pressure and questioning why things aren’t going their way.

“What we’ve moved onto since the series is to get out there and say, ‘You know what, it’s okay to be aggressive and all that, but we need to start having fun, just playing and not thinking too much,’ ” Hirsch said.

The formerly quiet Hirsch said as his role with the team expands, he has become a more vocal leader.

“He keeps an even keel on the ice,” forward Andy Sertich said. “It helps out when there’s a guy talking and you can always talk back.”

Hirsch’s offensive prowess peaked last spring during the home stretch of the Gophers’ championship run. He ended up third on the team with seven power-play goals.

Hirsch’s stats currently stand at one goal and three assists. Again, he looks at the bigger picture.

“Numerical goals are what you want to achieve, but what we really need to do is have fun and get everything flowing,” he said.

But Hirsch’s power-play production is something that grew even more important this week.

Forward Ryan Potulny will be out for up to four months because of a left knee injury confirmed by an MRI on Monday. He will undergo ligament repair surgery Friday.

“It’s tough because they don’t have as many guys to lean on,” Hirsch said. “There are five of them, and there were seven of us. I know that doesn’t seem like that big of a deal, but it is.”

Last season, the close-knit relationships between Minnesota players got the Gophers through some injuries and tough stretches.

Hirsch thinks the same thing will happen this year.

“We’ve been trying to be as positive as we can, and that’s a good thing, but we need a little honest negativity to start attacking the problems,” Hirsch said. “Players and coaches realized that and decided to quit pumping our tires and maybe just kick us in the butt a little bit.”