As part of GopherHole.com's continuing coverage of the Minnesota Golden Gopher men's hockey team, we will now be taking a look back at the year that was. This will be the second in our series of positional recaps, with this one focusing on wings, part two. Keep checking back over the coming weeks for the rest of the series.
Freshman stats: 44 GP, 13-10-23 points
Sophomore stats: 32 GP, 9-14-23 points
Junior stats: 44 GP, 10-15-25 points
Speaking of players that will need to step it up just a wee bit next year, Barry Tallackson comes to mind. Next to Thomas Vanek, Barry may be the most frustrating Gopher on the current squad.
The condor, as Doug Woog so aptly tagged him, came to the "˜U' as a heralded kid with great size (6'4", 205 pounds). That combined with his long stride and lightning quick shot should have equated to Riddle-esque point totals over his first three years.
Instead, Tallackson has gone through the motions for the better part of three years and been a disappointment for the most part. He has had ample amounts of power play time and been paired with elite players on a regular basis, but the production just has not come easily.
With all that being said, it's not as if he's been a complete dud. He has been just a cut below Grant Potulny in terms of playoff performances. In the 2002-03 season he registered a point in each NCAA Tournament game, including two goals in the title game versus New Hampshire and seven points overall.
He really came on during the second half of this past year as well, giving Gopher fans some hope that he still can evolve into the player everyone thought he could be. Over the last 15 games he scored five goals and had 10 assists, so there is light at the end of the tunnel.
2003-04 Grade: B-
Freshman stats: 18 GP, 1-2-3 points
Sophomore stats: 21 GP, 2-7-9 points
Junior stats: 33 GP, 3-14-17 points
Early in this past season, the Gophers were flat to say the least during their 2-7-1 start. The goals were not exactly coming in bunches and their heart and desire was questioned by coaches and team members alike.
One player that did his best to help the team shake those images was junior Garrett Smaagaard. He was one of their most productive scorers for the first three months of the year, accounting for one goal and 11 points in the team's first 17 games.
Being that he played on the power play as much as you or me, those points came from hard work. That will to work hard has been instilled in Smaagaard impart thanks to a career marred by injuries. A standout football player at Eden Prairie High School, he blew out his knee in the state title game during his senior year, forcing him to his final hockey season before joining the Gophers.
In his first year and a half, Smaagaard seen limited playing time, but worked his way into the lineup late in the 2002-03 season. He was split time on the fourth line with senior Nick Anthony and eventually nudged Anthony out of that spot permanently, playing in each WCHA Final Five and NCAA Tournament game.
He carried that momentum into this season, and his effort even earned him playing time on the top line with Vanek. His production slowed a bit as the usual suspects began scoring again though. On a Saturday night in February against Alaska Anchorage, he scored a stunning goal on a breakaway that showed he has it in him to possibly be a prolific scorer.
The very next game against Denver though, he again suffered a serious knee injury and his season was lost. He should be ready for his senior campaign though, and he should have a spot secured along side Jake Fleming on the ever dangerous fourth line.
2003-04 Grade: B+
Freshman stats: 38 GP, 16-14-30 points
Sophomore stats: 44 GP, 16-31-47 points
Junior stats: 45 GP, 26-25-51 points
Senior stats: 44 GP, 24-25-49 points
Over the past three seasons, no Gopher has been as consistent of an offensive force than one Troy Riddle. There are several factors that contribute to this fact, but two that come to mind first and foremost are his speed, and subsequently his effort.
The Minneapolis' native wheels were nearly unrivaled by any other player in the country during his stint as a Gopher. Though breakaways were not a dime a dozen for Riddle, his quickness was truly evident on the power play. His ability to occupy space on one side of the ice really freed up his teammates to get open, making the Gophers' power play one of the nation's best during his tenure.
Standing at just 5'10" and 170 pounds, you wouldn't think Riddle would be willing to mix it up, but that's where that effort thing comes in. With Grant Potulny missing time due to injuries over the last two years, Riddle often found himself in front the net, taking abuse from guys much larger than he.
Riddle was never afraid to mix it up either. Many a time over his Gopher career did that familiar smile grace his face while giving a face-wash to an opposing player. His toughness was never more evident that during the 2002-03 season when the Gophers hit the road to take on the upstart MSU-Mavericks.
In a 3-2 loss on Friday night, Riddle hurt his shoulder midway through and was standing on the sidelines with a icepack on his shoulder as he watching his teammates fall to the Mavs. The next night though, he was back in the lineup. He sparked the Gophers to a 7-4 win by scoring two goals and assisting on two more.
Late this past year he had a career weekend versus St. Cloud State, putting up four goals and nine total points in the first round of the WCHA Playoffs. This past year's Gophers were all about inconsistency, but not Riddle. He never went more than two games during his senior year without registering a point.
With five seniors leaving, they all are taking something with them that cannot be replaced. Riddle's production will be the key thing the Gophers need to replace. No doubt that will not be an easy chore.
2003-04 Grade: A
Freshman stats: 44 GP, 14-8-22 points
Few Gophers players were more fun to watch this year than one Danny Irmen. His style of play, and oh, yeah, production, made him truly a joy to watch and left the Gophers faithful with hope after losing five seniors.
Irmen's season could have easily been derailed early, as his longtime friend and teammate Ryan Potulny was lost to a knee injury. The 2003 USHL playoff MPV scored a goal and an assist in his second career game, but the hit a bit of a lull, netting just four points in his next 21 games.
The effort was always there though despite the drop in points. Irmen busted his tail on every shift, which was a big reason why he played in every game this year. He bounced back and forth from the third, second and first lines, but finally settled in at the end of the year on the second line with Grant Potulny and Gino Guyer, and his production took off.
The Fargo, N.D. native bagged a goal and two assists on a Saturday night in Mankato and never looked back. As his power play time increased, not surprisingly so did his production. He will no doubt be a top line player next year and it would not be surprising for his point total to come close to doubling.
He was also clutch (what is it about these North Dakota kids?) when the playoffs came around. He came away from the WCHA Final Five with three goals and an assist in lifting the Gophers to their second straight Broadmoor Trophy. He also scored a key goal in Minnesota's victory over Notre Dame in the NCAA Tournament.
If Irmen can (knock on wood) avoid the dreaded sophomore slump, his value will go up even more next year and in each year there after.
2003-04 Grade: A
Freshman stats: 43 GP, 9-15-24 points
Sophomore stats: 43 GP, 7-18-25 points
Tyler Hirsch falls into a similar category as Tallackson, in that they have both shown flashes but have never been able to put it all together. The thing that hurts Hirsch is his lack of size (5'10", 165 pounds). If he's to improve as an overall player he will have to put on some size during the offseason.
Early in the year Hirsch was put at the point as part of the Gophers' top power play unit. The team struggled in that area despite Hirsch having a productive beginning, going for three goals and 14 total points in the team's first 20 games. He would get just nine points over the remainder of the season though.
His passing is out of this world at times, but aside from that he doesn't do anything particularly well, and that hurts him as far as playing time. Rarely will head coach Don Lucia put him up front on the power play and he does not kill penalties.
Hirsch joins Guyer and Andy Sertich as a group of juniors-to-be that will need to increase their points totals by likely double-digits for this team to make another run at a NCAA title next year. Cleary the talent is there with Hirsch; his goal versus Denver during his freshman year had greatness written all over it.
He will probably be a second line player next year and hopefully will be paired with some finishers that can take full advantage of his great vision and amazing ability to dish the puck.
2004-04 Grade: C+