Line shakeup results in change of fortune for Stoa

Freshman forward Ryan Stoa has 11 points in his past 14 games.

Chris Lempesis

There was a good deal of hype surrounding Ryan Stoa coming into Minnesotaís menís hockey teamís 2005-2006 season. And when looking at Stoa on paper, it seemed to be justifiable.

Stoa was a 6-foot, 3-inch, 213-pound forward who was coming off two strong seasons with the U.S. National Under-18 team. The Colorado Avalanche even used a second-round pick on Stoa in last yearís NHL Entry Draft.

But 16 games into the season, Stoa hadnít shown much in the way of promise, scoring just two goals.

Coach Don Lucia then made a move that changed everything for Stoa. Lucia put Stoa on a line with star juniors Ryan Potulny and Danny Irmen for the North Dakota series in early December.

Since then, Stoa has taken off, posting two goals and nine assists (11 points) in 14 games.

ìWe thought he might complement (Potulny and Irmen) pretty well,” Lucia said of why he made the decision. ìTheyíre easy to play with and I think theyíve kind of taken him under their wing a little bit as juniors and helped him along.”

Stoa was struggling early, but Potulny said he was excited when he heard heíd be paired up with Stoa.

The excitement stemmed from the game the two had when they played on a line together for the Nov. 5 contest at Minnesota-Duluth.

ìI loved playing with him,” Potulny said. ìAnd then he got put with us and I knew it was going to work right away.”

It did, as Stoa earned his first collegiate assist on a goal by Irmen in Minnesotaís 4-3 win.

At first Stoa said it was his physical presence ó the ability to go into the corners and get the puck out ó that allowed him to fit in with Irmen and Potulny.

ìAnd now I think (itís) just chemistry,” Stoa said. ìI think we have a lot of chemistry in our line, always know where guys are. So I think that helps a lot.”

Stoaís playmaking ability has helped him stick around on the line, Potulny ó who called Stoaís development ìunbelievable” ó said.

ìHe sees the ice so well, and down in the corners, heís tough to beat with the puck,” Potulny said. ìHe gets down there and makes plays for us and makes it happen. He does all the little things right.”

His playmaking skills ó and the numbers ó might be keeping him around. But Stoa said the trust from the coaching staff to put him on a line with arguably the teamís best two players instilled more confidence in him.

The increased confidence is the biggest reason for his breakout play, he said. And the improved morale is leading to more numbers. Stoa has had three multipoint games since the first North Dakota game, most notably a three-point performance in the Gophersí 5-4 win at Wisconsin on Jan. 27 (1-2-3).

The bigger numbers are starting to legitimize Stoaís preseason hype.

But for now, Stoa said heís less concerned with numbers than with just staying on the line heís on now.

ìItís self-motivation just to keep working hard,” Stoa said. ìYouíve got to work hard to keep up in practice, otherwise you canít keep up.”