Hankinson finishes weekend as fan

Michael Rand

After playing Friday and Saturday against Northern Michigan at Mariucci Arena, Gophers forward Casey Hankinson made a Sunday trip to a smaller, lesser-known arena.
As important as Minnesota’s contests against the Wildcats were this weekend, the game on Sunday at Edina’s Braemar Arena was an event Hankinson wouldn’t have missed for anything.
The Gophers junior co-captain was on hand to see a benefit hockey game for friend and neighbor Ben Peyton, who broke his neck while playing in a hockey game just before Christmas. The event was organized to help defray the costs of the Peyton family’s medical bills.
Aside from being a family friend, Hankinson’s parents, John and Bonnie, are Ben’s godparents. Likewise, Ben’s parents are Casey’s godparents.
Originally, Hankinson was going to participate in the game. But the NCAA ruled that his participation in the game would have been a recruiting violation because technically Peyton is still eligible to play college hockey.
Instead of playing, Hankinson escorted Ben’s sister, Annie, onto the ice and watched the game from the stands. Although at first he was upset by the NCAA’s decision not to let him play, he softened his stance after the event.
“I would have liked to have been out there playing, but it was great just to be there,” he said. “It was awesome. It lived up to everyone’s expectations and then some.”
Hankinson recalled the day in late December in the same building when his mood was quite different. He was watching Annie play in a game when he received word that Ben had been injured and wasn’t moving.
“My heart dropped,” Hankinson said. “I hoped it wasn’t severe. I thought maybe it was a short-term thing, but it wasn’t.”
Peyton has made progress since the injury, but he still has limited movement, Hankinson said.
The story inspired several of Hankinson’s teammates to attend Sunday’s event. It has also kept Hankinson in constant contact with the NCAA.
When he wore a BP’ sticker on his helmet during a Gophers game as a tribute to Peyton, Hankinson was told he had to remove it. When he moved it to his wristband, the same thing happened.
Again, the NCAA cited unfair recruiting advantages as a reason for the decision.
“It’s something that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense,” Hankinson said. “You would hope the NCAA would look at what’s in the best interest of everyone.”
But Hankinson’s salute to Peyton is far from over. He still attended the game on Sunday. And the BP’ sticker remains — it’s just a little less obvious.
“I’ve got it somewhere on my gear and it’s visible,” Hankinson said. “But they have to try to find it if they want me to take it off.”
Gophers look for help
Northern Michigan coach Rick Comley was impressed with how his team played against the Gophers this weekend, especially after the Wildcats fell behind Friday 3-0 in the first period.
Although he dislikes the idea of a moral victory, Comley said the pair of one-goal losses were a step in the right direction.
“They were out to beat us bad,” Comley said. “We can walk out of here with our heads high.”
The Gophers are hoping the confidence that Northern Michigan gained over the weekend will carry over to the ninth-place Wildcats’ upcoming home series against first-place North Dakota.
Minnesota, which hosts Minnesota-Duluth next weekend, trails UND by three points. The Wildcats only have five WCHA wins this year, but they have knocked off the Gophers, Colorado College, Denver and Wisconsin.
“I could see North Dakota getting beaten by a team like this,” Gophers goalie Steve DeBus said.
No luck for LaFleur
Gophers senior defenseman Brian LaFleur made his return to the Gophers lineup Friday against the Wildcats after missing six weeks with a separated shoulder.
As part of a welcome back present, several of his teammates — particularly Mike Crowley — tried to set him up with good scoring chances.
LaFleur fired five shots on Minnesota’s first power play on Friday, but he didn’t score. Later in the first period, Crowley came up to him and reminded him why he hadn’t scored — Crowley was wearing LaFleur’s lucky chain.
LaFleur, who had given the chain to Crowley before the North Dakota series, wrestled it off the junior’s neck before Saturday’s game. LaFleur then clanged the crossbar with a shot that looked destined for the upper part of the net.
“It just wasn’t my weekend,” he said.
Slap Shots
ù Gophers freshman Dave Spehar Saturday night had his 14-game point streak snapped.
ù Minnesota junior Ryan Kraft was named WCHA Offensive Player of the Week for his three-goal, two-assist performance against Northern Michigan.