Spehar returns home to play for final time

Josh Linehan

When the Minnesota men’s hockey team packs its bus to head to Duluth this weekend, it’ll bring plenty with them.
Extra sticks, skates, elbow pads and their maroon road jerseys. A change of clothes, a portable CD player and maybe even some homework to do if the hotel becomes unbearably boring.
Unfortunately for the Gophers, they might need to rent a whole extra trailer for all the baggage Dave Spehar will bring to Duluth.
A Duluth native who chose to skate for the Gophers instead of the Bulldogs, Spehar has been the Bulldog student section’s favorite target for the four years he has played for Minnesota.
When the last “Spehar sucks!” chant rings from the walls of the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center, it will signal the end of an era.
“I’ve been skating there since I was 16,” Spehar said. “After that last buzzer sounds Saturday, maybe on the bus ride home, I’ll think back to all the great times I’ve had in that arena.
“There have been a lot of expectations, and a lot of them haven’t been fair. But I welcomed those expectations, to be honest.”
But it wasn’t always that way.
Spehar burst onto the Minnesota hockey scene as a high school junior, when he scored three consecutive hat tricks in the state tournament to lead his Duluth East team to the state title. Back then, Dave Spehar was the toast of Duluth.
He led the Greyhounds back to the title game his senior season, only to run into Apple Valley and goaltender Karl Goehring. After five overtimes, Apple Valley finally triumphed. It was a harbinger of things to come.
Goehring left for a year of junior hockey in Fargo-Moorhead. And Spehar, after two years of speculation, broke the hearts of Bulldogs fans and elated Gophers backers. He came to Minneapolis and was anointed as the savior of the Minnesota dynasty.
For a while, everything went according to plan. Spehar had a good freshman season. He scored 37 points in 40 games and made the WCHA all-rookie team. His performance was touted as a mere taste of things to come.
The next season, however, was a disaster. Minnesota suffered through one of its worst seasons ever. And in a loss which then-coach Doug Woog called the worst of his career, Spehar and the Gophers lost to the Bulldogs in the third game of a WCHA first-round playoff, despite leading 4-0 in the third period.
Karl Goehring, in his first season, led North Dakota to a WCHA championship and a trip to the NCAA regionals.
Though his stats have never improved over his freshman year, Spehar has had a good career by any standards. He has totaled 121 points over his three-plus years, despite having only 11 this season.
Spehar, for one, takes pride in the positives of his career.
“It’s been an incredible learning experience,” Spehar said. “You should take pride in what you have accomplished, and I try to do that. I’ve been part of a WCHA championship team, and I’ve gone to regionals. I’d like to go again this year.”
And despite what many might think, Spehar has reason to look forward to visiting his hometown this weekend.
Spehar has been the superstar everyone expected him to be — but only when he played the Bulldogs. Ten goals and three assists against Duluth give Spehar by far his best statistics against any opponent during his college career.
Bulldogs coach Mike Sertich has a simple explanation for Spehar’s stellar play in Duluth.
“It’s home. Maybe that should tell him something,” Sertich said.

Josh Linehan cover’s men’s hockey and welcomes comments at [email protected]