When Heroes Are Made
by Gregg Paul/CHN Reporter
ST. PAUL, Minn. Come playoff time, you would expect a team's star players to shine in the limelight, especially on a big stage like the WCHA Final Five. And playing before crowds in excess of 16,000 and a huge regional television audience, those players get more exposure.
But the playoffs are also time for the Cinderella story, where seemingly out of nowhere, a player or group of players who do not usually occupy the limelight find their opportunity.
Today was that day for the North Dakota trio of Chris VandeVelde, Chris Porter and Matt Watkins. They were the catalysts in North Dakota's 6-2 drubbing of the St. Cloud State Huskies in Frida's semifinal.
"They have speed, they pass you the puck," said Sioux coach Dave Hakstol. "That has got to be their game, shooting the puck, driving to the net. We got fortunate on the couple of rebounds that went on to Chris' tape and he made good on them."
Sure, Sioux star Jonathan Toews scored two goals, but VandeVelde's two goals and an assist, Watkins' goal and two assists, and Porter's goal and assist were a bigger story in the game. Their aggressive forechecking, hustling and outworking of their opponent set the tone for the game.
"It helps playing with Porter and Watti (Watkins)," said VandeVelde, who was moved to the second line this week by Hakstol. "I have to credit them and we were just getting shots and then he kicked that rebound right to me and I finished."
The two goals were just VandeVelde's second and third of the season, but they came at very opportune times.
North Dakota has been on a tear since the Christmas break, going 14-2-4 and averaging nearly a full goal a game more than in the first half, while giving up a full goal a game less.
Some see the first half as adversity, but Toews thinks it was a blessing in disguise.
"The adversity made us come together as a team and we're better for it," said Toews. "Sometimes when you go the extra mile you get the bounces."
Certainly things have been bouncing North Dakota's way during this roll, but there's no time for complacency.
"You're only as good as your last game," said Hakstol. "As a team you want to keep finding ways to get better."
If there is still room for North Dakota to get better, then the rest of the college hockey world needs to find a way to stop them.
"We've been getting better every game," said Toews. "I don't think we really look at it as a roll. We're playing better hockey."
Obviously playing better hockey during the playoffs is a key to success when your goal is to win a national championship.
"This is the time of the year when it is all on the line," said Hakstol. "We've never had a problem showing up and working."