Kohn bumps and bruises his way into lineup

by Michael Rand

Because of last season’s experienced and talented defensive unit, it took sophomore Bill Kohn an extra season to become a regular on the Gophers hockey team.
But when he got his chance on Friday in Minnesota’s season opener against Colorado College, it took Kohn less than a full period to display why coach Doug Woog thinks he’s going to be a crowd favorite.
Midway through the first period, Kohn leveled Tigers’ center Brian Swanson, knocking last year’s WCHA Rookie of the Year to the ground.
When Swanson had the audacity to get up, Kohn returned him to the ground.
Then the same thing happened one more time.
Three hits in about 15 seconds. The Mariucci Arena crowd thundered to life. In Minnesota’s first two games, Kohn has established himself in the role he was expected to play at the season’s start.
“Our team has a lot of different guys with different roles. You see Mike Crowley back on defense and you know he’s going to go with the puck,” the Roseville native said. “Intimidating and wearing down opposing offense, that’s what I strive to do as my role.”
And he strove a little harder when he saw the Tigers’ No. 27 skating around in the Gophers’ end of the rink.
Kohn and Swanson became familiar to one another while playing in the USHL — a league hardly known for the more gentlemanly aspects of hockey. Kohn stopped short of calling it a grudge match, instead opting for the term “competitive rivalry.”
Kohn said he didn’t even know the Tigers were called for a retaliatory penalty after his hits on Swanson because he was focused so much on shadowing him.
“I played him for a couple of years in juniors and to tell you the truth, he got the best of me a couple of times,” Kohn said, grinning the whole time. “I just wanted to make sure he wasn’t going anywhere.”
As much as he relished the opportunity for payback on Swanson, he’s even more excited about the opportunity to play on a regular basis.
The Gophers were deep at defense last season with three seniors and All-American Mike Crowley among the ranks.
Playing in seven games, Kohn notched two assists. More importantly, however, opposing teams did not score a goal when he was on the ice.
Because there were so many seniors on last year’s team, Coach Doug Woog depended on Kohn to step into the lineup.
“Last year was tough. There was a lot of veteran defensemen, so it was a real long season for me,” Kohn said. “But the coaches were good to me, and I picked up little things just watching. I knew when I got my shot that I wasn’t going to let anything stop me.”
Kohn’s teammates noticed that he wasn’t going to let an opposing body separate him from the puck. Co-captain Casey Hankinson was one of many Gophers tossing accolades at the sophomore’s weekend performance.
“He played great,” Hankinson said. “He’s just a strong kid.”
Hankinson was quick to caution that although Kohn possesses a deadly slap shot, he won’t put up Crowley-type numbers on defense.
“He came up to me between the second and third period and he said, `I don’t like it when the puck doesn’t like me,'” Hankinson said. “I said, `Billy, you’re just out here to crush guys.'”
Woog probably summed up his new enforcer’s Friday display. After the game, Woog was praising several Minnesota newcomers, including Mike Lyons and Nate Miller.
But his eyes did a little dance when he mentioned Kohn’s name.
“It looked like the laundry was getting taken out of the basket,” Woog said. “There were sticks and gloves everywhere on the ice.”