LaFleur basks in unfamiliar spotlight

by Michael Rand

DETROIT — Brian LaFleur doesn’t go looking for attention, and it usually doesn’t find him.
Most of the time, if a member of the media is looking to interview a defenseman, they turn to one of his fellow Bloomington Jefferson graduates, Mike Crowley or Ben Clymer.
It’s just natural, and it’s OK with LaFleur.
“Whoever they want to talk about, that’s fine,” he said.
Crowley, a junior, is a former Minnesota Mr. Hockey award winner, an All-American and a Hobey Baker award finalist.
Clymer, a freshman, has played on two U.S. Select teams, a U.S. World Junior team and was a finalist for the Minnesota Mr. Hockey Award last year.
LaFleur, a senior, is the guy who had six career goals in his first three seasons with the Gophers. He’s the one who’s supposed to be steady, but not spectacular. He’s the one who usually gets to go directly from the locker room to the bus instead of making a detour for the press.
But his path has been blocked more than usual this season, particularly in the last few weeks.
To many people’s surprise — and particularly his own — LaFleur has more points than the more publicized Bloomington Jefferson alumni. In fact, after his two goal, two assist weekend at the College Hockey Showcase in Detroit, LaFleur is third on the team in scoring with 14 points.
That’s quite a turnaround for a player who had only 37 points combined in his first three seasons and didn’t score a goal until his junior season.
So what’s going on this season? There are several theories to explain LaFleur’s sudden prowess. And playing with Crowley is the biggest.
The duo recently began playing on the same defensive line, and the move is paying off. Although both players are often times offensive-minded, they’ve been able to maintain a high level on the defensive end of the ice so far.
“Having LaFleur play with Crowley really helps both players,” Gophers coach Doug Woog said.
In the second period of Minnesota’s 5-3 win over Michigan State on Saturday, Crowley fed LaFleur with an outlet pass that sprung him on a long breakaway. LaFleur cashed in on his chance, giving the Gophers a 3-1 lead. Later in the period, he added another goal, marking the first time he scored two goals in a college game.
LaFleur said he was surprised that no one touched him during his 120-foot breakaway against the Spartans.
“I don’t know where (the defense) went,” he said. “I’m going to have to go back and look at it on tape.”
Like any player who doesn’t want to jinx a spree, LaFleur says the puck is just bouncing his way these days.
“It’s definitely nice to get some luck going,” he said. “It’s nice to be able to help out the offense.”
Gophers coach Mike Guentzel took some mock credit for LaFleur’s success after Saturday’s game.
“All I know is that in (74) games he didn’t have a goal and then I showed up,” Guentzel said.