Players to Watch: North Dakota
by Dane DeKrey/Staff Writer
With 11 draft picks on its roster, it is a fairly daunting task to name four North Dakota players to watch at the 2008 Frozen Four in Denver.
But rules are rules, and after much deliberation, the four players who deserve a second look are:
Jean-Philippe Lamoureux, Goaltender
As if Lamoureux didn't already have enough motivation coming into this week — a chance to step out of the shadows of his father Jean-Pierre's two championship rings (1980 & 1982) and a rematch against Boston College, the team that ended the Sioux's season a year ago, 6-4, in St. Louis — now he has a Hobey Baker-snub helping to feed the fire.
Lamoureux, who many considered a sure finalist for the award given annually to college hockey's best player, was omitted from the Hobey Hat Trick last Wednesday, as the names of Michigan's Kevin Porter, Boston College's Nathan Gerbe and Miami's Ryan Jones were called instead of the senior goaltender.
"He's obviously been an outstanding goaltender all year long on a very good team," said Minnesota coach Don Lucia, referencing Lamoureux's nation-leading statistics in all major goaltender categories. "What is best for North Dakota is that when they do make a mistake, Phil is back there to make a big save when they need him, and that's an important quality to have this time of season."
Lucia went on to dismiss Lamoureux's Hobey snub as much of a factor this time of year.
"I don't think that is going to have any bearing whatsoever on his play," Lucia said. "He is trying to win it all, and North Dakota has faced Boston College the last two years in a row and lost in the semifinals; I'm sure that's what the focus is going to be on."
T.J. Oshie, Junior Forward
Uh, duh. Still not convinced Oshie is one of college hockey's most dominant forward? Just ask Colorado College.
In a game that has since proved to be the tip of the iceberg of Colorado College's demise, Oshie almost single-handedly beat the Tigers in the consolation game of the WCHA Final Five tournament, a team that only a week earlier captured the WCHA regular season title.
Oshie drew penalty after penalty and then promptly led North Dakota to three power-play goals as he guided his team to a gritty, season-defining, 4-2, victory. It was a starlight moment by a star player.
"What happens generally in the national tournament, including the Final Five is your top end kids, if you're successful, take over," Minnesota State coach Jutting said. "I really felt like between Oshie, Duncan and Chorney, down the stretch those kids really stepped up their game, and in this game in particular, T.J. showed you a little bit of everything he has to offer."
And while Oshie will almost surely find a new home in St. Louis next year with the St. Louis Blues — a team that drafted him in the first round in 2005 — Oshie will always have a special spot in the hearts of North Dakota fans the world over. A player who backchecks harder than he forechecks, one who is just as willing to lay a big hit as score a big goal and somebody who genuinely enjoys playing the game.
Chay Genoway, Defenseman
You know you have turned some heads when Bruce McLeod asks about you.
That's exactly what happened at the WCHA Final Five when McLeod, the league's commissioner, stood up during a post-game interview with North Dakota's head coach Dave Hakstol and asked a question the rest of the room had skimmed over:
"What makes Chay Genoway so explosive?" asked McCleod.
Hakstol chuckled, but then gave a very serious and very telling answer about the Morden, Manitoba, native.
"Chay Genoway is the most explosive two-way defenseman in college hockey," Hakstol said, who also coached Genoway's older brother, Colby, in 2004-05. "Among other things, that's the reason we recruited him."
Hakstol must have a knack for recruiting, then, because after a relatively quiet freshman year, Genoway exploded onto the scene in 2007-08, tallying 8 goals and 19 assists, good enough to earn himself All-WCHA Second Team honors along the way.
But it's not just Genoway's knack for lighting the lamp that makes him so dangerous; his defense is also superb, as his plus/minus is plus-20 on the year, good enough for third-best on the team. And with Genoway paired alongside the more defensively-minded partner in Joe Finley, North Dakota's second set of defenseman are amongst college hockey's most dangerous — on both ends of the ice.
Matt Watkins, Forward
While any number of players could be given the fourth spot on this list — Taylor Chorney or Ryan Duncan just to name two — Watkins gets the nod because recently his playoff mustache has gotten more play in the media than has his actual on-ice performance.
And that's quite a shame considering that Watkins brings to the table the sort of gritty, grind-you-out style of hockey that complements nicely the more fluid and flashy play of North Dakota's goal scorers, i.e., Duncan and Oshie.
While his offensive numbers hardly pop off the page — just 8-7—15 on the year — Watkins' abilities as a defensive forward caught the eye of the Dallas Stars enough that the team drafted him in the 5th round in 2005. Another reason Watkins makes the list is because while his offensive upside has perhaps yet to fully come to fruition, it is more than made up for by his rock-solid defensive play.
"I think for North Dakota it is imperative that they start hard, and a real key would be for them to get some secondary scoring," Lucia said. "Once you get past Oshie and Duncan, who's going to step up? That second line has had a big role this year and they will need it to continue for North Dakota to be successful in Denver."