Junior Plays

     
Right winger Junior Lessard made his Tampa Bay debut in Friday’s 3-2 overtime home win against Toronto. He had 10 minutes, 36 seconds of ice time wearing No. 42 and had two shots. He was called up from Norfolk (Va.) of the AHL on Thursday.

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Facing North Dakota

     Three straight Frozen Four appearances, secured by supremacy in the second half of the season, marked coach Dave Hakstol’s first three years at North Dakota.
     His fourth season is following form.
     North Dakota comes to the DECC on Saturday with a 13-game unbeaten streak, the best among Division I teams. In going 12-0-1 since Jan. 5, the Fighting Sioux (21-8-2) have moved to second place in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association and No. 4 in the PairWise Rankings.
     They face No. 14 Minnesota Duluth (12-12-6) in the second-to-last series of the regular season with much on the line for both teams.
     "We haven’t changed our mentality since September, but now we’re finding ways to win, and we want to keep building on that," said Hakstol, who is 99-53-3 at North Dakota. "We’re all battling to finish as strong as we can."
     While North Dakota is all but guaranteed a spot in the NCAA field of 16, UMD is seventh in the WCHA and on the bubble to make the Division I tournament. The Bulldogs, coming off consecutive shutout losses at home to Colorado College, could help themselves immeasurably by doing well against North Dakota.
     "You have to bounce back after last weekend, and this team has done that all season," said UMD coach Scott Sandelin, a former North Dakota defenseman. "Our players know we still have a great chance to get into the [NCAA] tournament."
     The Fighting Sioux went 16-3-3 their final 22 games last season and ultimately lost to Boston College 6-4 in the national semifinals. In 2005-06, they were 12-4 down the stretch, losing to BC 6-5 in the semis. In 2004-05, they were 11-5-3 the last 19 games and lost to Denver 4-1 in the national title game.
     This season, North Dakota split eight straight series, including at home against UMD on Nov. 23-24, and was 9-8-1 on Jan. 4. Since then the Fighting Sioux have been seemingly unbeatable, although there have been some difficult times.
     There were three contentious moments near the end of periods or after games — at home against Denver on Feb. 16, at Minnesota on Feb. 2 and at Wisconsin on Nov. 10. In those games, North Dakota compiled 59 penalties for 242 minutes and the opposition had 55 for 212. North Dakota is No. 2 in penalty minutes per game in Division I (21.4).
     During a 1-1 tie at Minnesota, Hakstol was unhappy with the officiating of Don Adam, said so with a hand gesture and was suspended for two games by North Dakota’s administration after apologizing.
     "It’s not something we talk about throughout the week, like, ‘Oh, let’s go out and get in a couple fights this weekend,’ " North Dakota assistant captain Taylor Chorney, a defenseman, told the Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald after the Feb. 16 Denver game.
     Eleven penalties were assessed after the end of the second period in that game, six to Denver.
     "I guess it’s just the situation. This past weekend, [Kyle Radke] is out there and a couple guys on our team get jumped and we were outnumbered," Chorney told the Herald. "When you get put into a situation like that, you’ve got to have your teammates’ backs. Maybe this year, more than in the past, we"ve been in a couple different situations like that. We"re the type of team that"s going to stand up for each other no matter what.
     "We’re going to keep playing the same way. We probably won’t drop the gloves any more or anything like that. But I think we’ve maybe sent a little bit of a message to everybody that we’re the type of team that’s going to have each other’s backs through everything."
     Last weekend, against Bemidji State, the Fighting Sioux had just nine penalties in two games. Associate head coach Cary Eades filled in while Hakstol served his suspension.
     Despite a successful and volatile season, Hakstol says his team has not been distracted while playing the toughest schedule in Division I.
     "We’ve been very focused and have played hard, straight up and with a lot of pride," he said.
     UMD’s focus will be to spark its offense. The Bulldogs have scored just two goals total the past four home games and face North Dakota goalie Jean-Philippe Lamoureux, ranked No. 3 in goals-against average (1.76) in Division I.
     In the previous meeting between the teams, UMD beat North Dakota 4-2 in Grand Forks.
     "There’s no big secret about scoring. You shoot the puck more and get to the net. You bear down in practice and pay attention to the little things," said junior center MacGregor Sharp, UMD’s leading scorer. "We want to get an [NCAA] bid and we need some wins to get there. It’s definitely still there for us and it’s a big motivator."

Tampa Bay Calls Lessard

     
Winger Junior Lessard, who has been in the American Hockey League with the Norfolk (Va.) Admirals, has been called up by the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning for the first time since being acquired from Dallas last month. Tampa Bay is home Friday against Toronto.
     Lessard was called to action after Tampa Bay center Chris Gratton was scheduled for surgery to repair a tear to the labrum in his left hip
next week.
    Gratton has been suffering with the injury since November and has
continued to play despite considerable
pain, said the Lightning.  Conservative treatment and therapy have not been able to relieve
his symptoms and he’ll be out of the lineup indefinitely.

Here’s the rest of the Tampa Bay press release:

     Tampa Bay has called up right winger Junior
Lessard from the Admirals on emergency conditions, executive vice
president and general manager Jay Feaster announced.
     Lessard, 27, a 6-foot, 200-pounder from
St-Joseph-de-Beauce, Qu├ębec, was acquired from the Dallas Stars on
January 15 in exchange for defenseman Dan Jancevski. Since joining
Norfolk, Lessard has six goals and nine assists in 19 games. Prior to
joining Norfolk, he had 10 goals and 11 assists in 36 games with the
AHLs Iowa Stars. Overall, Lessard has 16 goals and 20 assists in 55
AHL games this season. The fourth-year pro has appeared in 257 career
AHL games between Norfolk, Iowa and the Houston Aeros, scoring 80 goals
and adding 79 assists with 106 penalty minutes.
     Lessard has also been in two NHL games with Dallas this
season going scoreless with two penalty minutes. He made his NHL debut
in the 2005-06 season with Dallas. In eight career NHL games with
Dallas, he has two goals and 14 penalty minutes.

The Prediction

     This from Sioux Sports.com on the Saturday-Sunday series at the DECC between Minnesota Duluth and North Dakota:
     Since losing to Minnesota Duluth 4-2 on Nov. 24, North Dakota has gone 15-4-1, including 12-3-1 in the conference and 10-2 at home. North Dakota brings a 13 game unbeaten string (12-0-1) to Duluth, the longest current streak in Division I.
     UMD, on the other hand, has won only six games since earning a split at North Dakota, going 6-9-4 to bring its season record to 12-12-6 (8-11-5 WCHA). The Bulldogs were swept at home by Colorado College last weekend, going scoreless in the two games. UMD is 2-4-2 in their last eight games at home after opening the season 4-0-3 at the DECC.
     North Dakota has had the better of the results between the two teams recently, going 8-1-1 against Duluth in the past 10 games.
The Prediction
     North Dakota has the top-end talent and an edge in special teams situations that should translate into two victories, but the Bulldogs are smarting after being shut out twice at home last weekend and will find a way to earn at least one point. North Dakota 4-1, 2-2 tie.

Connolly Update

     Minnesota Duluth forward recruit Mike Connolly of the Camrose Kodiaks, who injured a knee earlier this season, may return for the Alberta Junior Hockey League playoffs, according to the Edmonton Journal. Camrose has a first-round bye and won’t open the playoffs until March 9-10 at home.

The Edmonton Journal

     Camrose forward Mike Connolly could return to the Kodiaks lineup for the third round of the playoffs. The 20-year-old injured his knee Jan. 13 against the Drumheller Dragons. He had 66 points and 25 goals in 37 games. Connolly had been on a line with University of Denver recruit Joe Colborne.
     Also,  another UMD recruit, forward Jake Hendrickson of Burnsville, had his season ended Wednesday as Anders Lee scored with 38.7 seconds left in overtime to give Edina a 4-3 win over Burnsville in the Section 2AA championship game at Mariucci Arena.
     Also, this week’s edition of the Northland Connection, those in professional hockey with connections to NE Minnesota, NW Wisconsin and UMD:

NORTHLAND CONNECTION

NHL

Sean Hill, Minnesota, 24 GP, 0-3-3

Jamie Langenbrunner, New Jersey, 46 GP, 11-25-36

Matt Niskanen, Dallas, 66 GP, 6-17-23

Mason Raymond, Vancouver, 39 GP, 6-12-18; Manitoba, 20 GP, 7-10-17

Craig Weller, Phoenix, 44 GP, 2-7-9

AHL

Zach FitzGerald, Manitoba, 47 GP, 5-3-8; Vancouver, 1 GP, 0-0-0

Alex Goligoski, Wilkes-Barre, 50 GP, 7-15-22; Pittsburgh

Tim Hambly, Quad City, 51 GP, 4-19-23

Junior Lessard, Norfolk 19 GP, 6-9-15; Iowa, 36 GP, 10-11-21; Dallas, 2 GP, 0-0-0

Jay Rosehill, Norfolk, 46 GP, 3-1-4

Andy Sertich, Bridgeport, 19 GP, 2-2-4

Steve Wagner, Peoria, 20 GP, 5-6-11; St. Louis, 24 GP, 2-6-8

ECHL

Steve Czech, Florida, 41 GP, 3-7-10

Beau Geisler, Stockton, 11 GP, 1-5-6

Ryan Geris, Stockton, 39 GP, 1-7-8

Gino Guyer, Phoenix, 33 GP, 9-14-23; Alaska 9 GP, 1-2-3

Josh Johnson, South Carolina, 31 GP, 19-11, 2.81 goals-against, .908 save percentage

Dan Kronick, Elmira, 19 GP, 6-8-14; Florida, 13GP, 0-1-1

Bryan McGregor, Pensacola, 54 GP, 11-13-24

Marco Peluso, Las Vegas, 19 GP, 2-4-6

Aaron Slattengren, Augusta, 33 GP 28-16-44; Providence (AHL), 9 GP 6-3-9; Manitoba 5GP, 0-0-0

IHL

Jay Hardwick, Muskegon, 46 GP, 3-2-5

Issac Reichmuth, Muskegon, 23 GP, 11-9, 3.52 goals-against, .894 save percentage

INTERNATIONAL

Finland

Evan Schwabe, Pelicans, 53 GP, 11-15-26

Tim Stapleton, Jokerit Helsinki, 52 GP, 28-32-60

Germany

Nick Anderson, Fuessen EV, 42 GP, 31-26-57

T.J. Caig, Heilbronner, 20 GP, 6-9-15; Graz EC, Austria, 10 GP, 0-5-5

Brett Hammond, Bad Nauheim, 39 GP, 18-18-36

England

Luke Stauffacher, Manchester, 25 GP, 11-15-26

Italy

Neil Petruic, Bolzano HC, 37 GP, 1-12-13

Three Prep Recruits Still Going

     Three Minnesota Duluth recruits playing high school hockey in the state are still in action this season — forwards Jake Hendrickson of Burnsville and John O’Neill of Anoka, and defenseman Luke McManus of Rosemount.
     Hendrickson and Burnsville face Edina at 8 p.m. Wednesday at Mariucci Arena for the Section 2AA title (Edina is the No. 1 seed and Burnsville No. 2). Edina is coached by former UMD defenseman Curt Giles. O’Neill and Anoka meet Cloquet-Esko-Carlton at 7:30 p.m. Thursday in the Section 7AA final at the DECC. Anoka is the No. 2 seed and CEC No. 4. McManus and Rosemount play Woodbury at 7 p.m. Thursday at the St. Paul Coliseum for the Section 3AA championship. Rosemount is the No. 1 seed and Woodbury No. 2.
     Other UMD recruits playing high school hockey this season: defenseman Drew Olson of Brainerd, lost to No. 2-seed Moorhead 4-2 in the Section 8AA semifinals (Moorhead plays top-ranked Roseau in Wednesday’s final in St. Cloud); center Max Tardy of Duluth East, lost in the Section 7AA semifinals to CEC 6-5.

Dropping to No. 14

     Minnesota State-Mankato’s 4-2 non-conference home loss Tuesday to Nebraska-Omaha didn’t do Minnesota Duluth any favors in the PairWise Rankings. UMD dropped from a tie at No. 12 to a tie at No. 14, which would just barely be in (or out) of the NCAA field of 16 when considering automatic bids. Minnesota has now moved ahead of UMD.
     The Mankato loss certainly didn’t help the hometown Mavericks, either, writes Shane Frederick of the Mankato Free Press:
     Minnesota State’s Pairwise ranking suffered a blow Tuesday night as Nebraska-Omaha scored a 4-2 upset. Omaha swept the series, captured the Spirit of the Maverick Trophy for the first time since 2002 and knocked Mankato from a tie for seventh in the Pairwise to a tie for 11th.
     "We didn’t come out with any fire," MSU captain Joel Hanson said, "like it was a must win."
      Here’s what the PairWise Rankings show Wednesday for the WCHA: Colorado College tied at No. 2, North Dakota tied at No. 4, Denver at No. 6, St. Cloud State (moving up quickly) tied at No. 7, Mankato tied at No. 11, Minnesota at No. 13, UMD and Wisconsin tied at No. 14.

Here Comes North Dakota

      North Dakota brings the longest unbeaten streak in Division I (12-0-1) to Duluth for afternoon games on Saturday and Sunday against UMD. The Fighting Sioux also have these stats:
     Goalie Jean Philippe Lamoureux is No. 3 in Division I in goals-against average (1.76) and No. 4 in save percentage (.931). North Dakota is No. 11 in scoring (3.23 a game), and No. 3 in margin of victory (1.35 goals a game), and is No. 2 in penalty minutes per game (21.4, behind No. 1 Canisius at 21.5).

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Scoring Siblings

     When Hamline University of St. Paul won the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference men’s hockey regular-season title for the first time in 60 years Saturday, junior center Dustin Fulton played a major role.
      The brother of Minnesota Duluth sophomore Jordan Fulton, had the game-winning goal and three assists as Hamline rallied to beat St. John’s 6-5 at the National Hockey Center in St. Cloud, Minn., after winning 4-1 Friday in St. Paul (when Fulton had a goal and an assist). St. John’s is coached by former UMD forward John Harrington.
      Dustin Fulton, a team captain, leads Hamline’s scoring with 20-26-46 in 25 games and, in three seasons, has 105 points in 75 games. Freshman forrward Austin Tavis of Grand Rapids is also on the Hamline team.
     On Wednesday,co-captains Fulton and Joe Long of Hamline were named MIAC co-players of
the year.
     Hamline (15-6-4) is home for an MIAC playoff semifinal game this Saturday against the Thursday winner of St. John’s and Gustavus Adolphus. St. Thomas (ranked No. 8 in Division III) is home against Bethel in the other semifinal game.
      St. Olaf College of Northfield, Minn., finished its season 9-12-4, and was led in scoring by junior right winger Nick Stalock, 15-9-24 in 25 games, the brother of UMD goalie Alex Stalock.

WCHA Goals: Lowest Yet

     Three shutouts in the WCHA last weekend helped put the league at its lowest offensive moment yet — 2.56 goals per team per league game. The previous five weeks in the most goal-challenged season in WCHA history were 2.57, 2.561, 2.63 and 2.63.
     Other marks in Division I are — CCHA 2.81, Hockey East 2.73 and ECAC 2.72.
     Of 122 WCHA games, 84 have been decided by one goal (28) or two goals (39), or finished as ties (17).
     At the same time, eight WCHA teams are in the top 15 of the PairWise Rankings.
     EIGHT.
     No. 3 Colorado College, No. 4 North Dakota, No. 6 Denver, No. 7 (tie) Minnesota State-Mankato, No. 10 St. Cloud State, No. 12 (tie) Minnesota Duluth, No. 14 (tie) Wisconsin and Minnesota.

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Junior Update

     Former Minnesota Duluth winger Junior Lessard started the season with the American Hockey League Iowa Stars and now is with Norfolk (Va.) This story appeared recently in the Daily Press in Newport News, Va. Lessard has 6-9-15 in 18 games with Norfolk and overall is 16-20-36 in 54 AHL games this season.

By Tris Wykes

     Norfolk, Va. — When Junior Lessard was traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning by the Dallas Stars earlier this season, there were the usual, day-to-day challenges to overcome.
     One apartment had to be packed while another living space had to be arranged. Lessard flew straight to Virginia after the swap to join his new team, the American Hockey League’s Norfolk Admirals. But at the league’s all star break a few weeks later, he flew to Iowa, where he’d been playing for the Stars’ AHL affiliate, so he could retrieve his car and drive it back to his new work place.
     In addition, there were new teammates to meet and new linemates to mesh with. A new system to learn. But none of it fazed Lessard, who’s never been afraid of leaving his comfort zone and has endured much worse than a professional life turned upside down at a moment’s notice.
     It helped that the mature and personable 27-year old was excited by the trade. After more than three seasons with Dallas, his enthusiasm and focus were wearing thin.
     "Since I’ve been here, every game I’m excited to play," said Lessard. "I think I had lost a little bit of that excitement."
     There wasn’t much in the way of conventional excitement in St.-Joseph-de-Beauce, a rural Quebec town of 4,500 where Lessard grew up on his family’s dairy farm. Lessard shot so many pucks at a net under the family’s carport and so ravaged a nearby wall that his mother tried to hide his hockey goal in the barn.
     The former Minnesota Duluth player had 10 goals and 21 points in 36 Iowa games this season when he was sent to Norfolk in exchange for Admirals defenseman and team captain Dan Jancevski. Although he hasn’t torn up Eastern Conference nets, Lessard has nonetheless impressed Norfolk coach Steve Stirling.
     "He’s a much better all-around player than I would have suspected," said Stirling, who also uses Lessard for penalty killing. "But he’s also scored a couple times where you said to yourself ‘That’s a goal-scorer’s goal.’ "
     Lessard will be an unrestricted free agent after this season and again able to choose for which NHL team he wants to labor. But he’s hoping to boost his appeal with some games for Tampa Bay before the end of the current campaign.
     "You start from scratch with a new organization and I have to prove myself here first," Lessard said of Norfolk. "Then if I get a chance, I have to prove myself to the coaches up in Tampa."