Seniors setting example for U hockey

Tim Nichols

The leaders on a hockey team — or any team for that matter — are usually the players who have been around the longest.
In the case of the Gophers men’s hockey team, seniors Wyatt Smith, Reggie Berg, Mike Anderson and Bill Kohn are the crew who lead Minnesota on and off the ice.
But they have also been among the most maligned, posting a combined minus-15 rating prior to Minnesota’s 4-2 loss to Alaska-Anchorage.
Following a closed-door players-only meeting Thursday, the seniors played as if they sincerely wanted to change their fortunes.
“In the meeting we talked about how there wasn’t that much season left,” Anderson said. “That we should make the commitment for at least a couple months.”
And during Saturday’s 5-1 Gophers’ win, the commitment looked like it was there.
Anderson picked up a goal and an assist on the fourth line, matching Berg’s output on the first line.
Their performances paced a Gophers’ victory that featured solid defensive hockey and a swarming offense around the goal mouth.
“We had to come out with our best effort,” Smith said. “Everybody came out ready to go.”
The energy level was pretty high for the Gophers on Saturday, but Sunday was a different story for most of the team.
The seniors, however, remained consistent in their effort throughout the weekend. The line of Berg, Smith, and junior Dave Spehar again performed well, as they all chipped in on Berg’s game-tying goal in the second period.
But the inexperience, along with the wear and tear of a long season, showed in some of the freshmen.
“The line of Smith, Berg and Spehar played hard, gave the crowd some things to be excited about,” coach Doug Woog said following the Gophers’ 4-2 loss. “Some of the youth slowed us too, the younger guys got tired a bit.”
The effort given by the senior forwards is a welcome change for a team that’s been plagued by inconsistent effort.
But if the remainder of the team doesn’t fall into place behind the seniors, the last three series (St. Cloud State, Minnesota-Duluth, Wisconsin) before the playoffs could be a harrowing ordeal.
One of the players that has tried to follow the seniors’ lead is freshman Erik Wendell.
“The kid never quits,” Berg said. “He never knows who he hurts in practice. But that’s the way he practices and plays. He played well the entire week.”
But following the disappointing loss on Sunday, the Gophers are back to where they were before the games and before the meetings, scratching their heads and trying to decide what went wrong.
And with a trip to St. Cloud State on the horizon — where it’s often too loud to think — the Gophers might want to have another meeting.
“For the opportunities we allowed them, we gave up too many goals,” Woog said. “For as many shots we had, we should have scored more.”