Seniors remembered by work ethic

by Michael Rand

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Dan Woog left the locker room at Van Andel Arena, his vision clouded by tears. The Gophers hockey team had lost to Michigan 7-4 in the NCAA West Regional, and Woog, hair slicked back and hockey bag over his shoulder, walked down the hallway toward the team bus.
It was the last time for a lot of things, and that realization was written all over his face.
“It goes by quick,” Woog, a senior, said. “You have five years ahead of you and then. …”
His voice trailed off, but he didn’t need to finish.
This year’s senior class wasn’t engulfed by praise and hype during their careers at Minnesota like last year’s big-name seniors Brian Bonin and Dan Trebil.
But the class of Nick Checco, Dan Hendrickson, Brian LaFleur and Dan Woog will be remembered more for their unrelenting effort than their individual statistics. Although they didn’t rewrite the record book or dominate college hockey during their tenure, it doesn’t make them any less important in the eyes of their teammates and coaches.
That work ethic made Minnesota’s season-ending loss to Michigan last Sunday as hard for them to take as anyone else in the arena.
“It’s a tough way for the seniors to go out,” sophomore Wyatt Smith said.
LaFleur was trying not to replay the game’s first minute in his head. During the opening shift, his stick broke. He thought he had enough time to get a new one from the Gophers bench, but his absence gave Michigan just enough time to create a 2-on-1 break. When Brendan Morrison slipped the puck past goalie Steve DeBus, it gave the Wolverines a lead they would never relinquish.
“You can look at all the things and say, ‘This might have been different if. …’ But that’s not going to do any good,” LaFleur said.
The miscue does not overshadow the importance of LaFleur and the other seniors to the team this season.
After not registering a goal in his freshman and sophomore seasons, the Bloomington Jefferson graduate had six last year to go with 12 assists. Despite missing six weeks with a shoulder injury this season, LaFleur had career highs with 12 goals and 21 assists.
Hendrickson played in only 23 games last season, registering just five points. This year, he had five goals and 11 assists and was a key member of the Gophers league-leading penalty killing unit.
Checco’s uncanny knack for scoring big goals continued this season. He scored the game-winner in overtime against Denver on Jan. 10 and sent the WCHA Final Five title game against North Dakota into overtime with a third period goal.
Woog, playing on the fourth line like he has almost his entire career, continued the consistent play from his previous years. His 17 points this season are nearly mirrored by his totals of 19, 21 and 22 during his first three seasons.
The relatively low scoring outputs of the four seniors is consistent with a trend in the WCHA this season. St. Cloud State’s Dave Paradise was the only senior in the league among the top 10 in scoring.
But Checco, Hendrickson, LaFleur and Woog made their points count. In 36 regular season games this season, they combined for 17 points. But in six playoff games, they had nine goals.
Not many of those goals were pretty; most were rebounds or scrambles in front of the net. Woog even scored a goal against St. Cloud State in the WCHA Final Five while falling down. The seniors didn’t want the season to end.
“I’m never going to wear that jersey again,” Woog said, still fighting through the tears. “It’s been such a big part of my life. …”
Again, he didn’t finish. Again, he didn’t have to.