Q&A With ... UMD Forward Jack Connolly
by Dan Myers/CHN Staff
Minnesota-Duluth captain Jack Connolly is one of the nation's top hockey players. A national champion and a potential Hobey Baker favorite, Connolly chatted with College Hockey News about a number of subjects — including the MacNaughton Cup, what winning it would mean to him and, as a born and bred Minnesotan, what it will be like cheering for the Badgers this weekend:
College Hockey News: With how the standings are shaking out, you guys two points back, is the MacNaughton Cup even something you're thinking about heading into this weekend?
Jack Connolly: Yeah, I think so. I think it's in the back of most guys minds. We know we still have a shot at it, we gotta go down and take care of business against St. Cloud and we're going to need help from Wisconsin this weekend. But if we don't win it and if things don't pan out for us, it's not the end of the world. We've still locked up the No. 2 spot in the conference, so we're just looking to go down and play two great games against St. Cloud before heading into the playoffs.
CHN: Being born and raised in Minnesota, is it going to be tough to pull for Bucky this weekend?
JC: Maybe a little bit (laughs), but they're playing the Gophers who are our No. 1 rival so it'd definitely be nice to see them steal some points away from Minnesota this weekend.
CHN: Will you do any scoreboard watching?
JC: We do a little bit I guess. We don't completely focus on it, obviously we like to focus on our play and what we're doing during practice or games. We do watch the board a little bit, though.
CHN: Your senior class has won a Broadmoor Trophy and a National Championship. How much would adding a MacNaughton Cup, kind of that third jewel if you will, how much would that mean to you guys?
JC: It would mean a lot. We've all talked about it before. Those are our three goals every single year as a program and this senior class, we've gotten two of them and it'd be pretty special to win the MacNaughton Cup to try and get all three of them during our time here at UMD. It's still within reach, so we'll just have to wait and see. It'd definitely be cool if it worked out in our favor and we are able to win it.
CHN: You had that 17-game unbeaten streak earlier this season and then went through a bit of a lull. Now, you're back on another five-game streak. What's been the difference for you guys again over the last couple of weeks and why are you guys playing better?
JC: I think dumbing the game down has definitely helped get us back to the way we were playing earlier in the season. After that streak, we definitely hit a rough patch in our season. We were playing teams we felt we should have beaten. Bounces weren't going our way, we weren't executing the way we know we can and we lost some points in league play that we should have had. I think we've just gotten back to keeping it simple, taking care of our blueline, chipping pucks out, keeping pucks in, and just using our speed and our skill down low to ultimately get pucks to the net and score some goals.
CHN: Maybe the one hiccup over the last couple of weeks was that last couple of minutes Saturday in Mankato. What happened those last three or four minutes?
JC: We were sitting in a good spot, two-goal lead towards the end of the game. They got a late power play goal that took the wind out of our sails a little bit and then right off that next draw, we turn the puck over in the neutral zone and they went the other way on an odd-man rush and capitalized. Before the blink of an eye, it was tied up. We were definitely disappointed, losing a point like that. We had a win right there within our grasp. I thought we played a good game up until that last couple minutes in the third, and we just had to do our best to move past it.
CHN: Is it a missed opportunity, especially if you end up tied after this weekend?
JC: Definitely. But we can look back at a few different series. The Minnesota series, I wish we could have played them a little later in the season. I think we lost one up in Alaska that we should have had. Lost 3 of 4 from [Michigan] Tech at home. These are points I felt our team could have had and it's definitely hurt us a little bit, but we're still in a position to possibly win a championship in our league.
CHN: You lose that point in Mankato, then come back last Friday (the next game), grab a lead against Colorado College, and you see that one vanish too. How big was it to get the win in overtime? Did that get the confidence back up?
JC: Yeah, it was huge. After blowing the lead like that down in Mankato, you try to learn from it and try to focus on closing out games when you have a lead. We played a great first two periods against CC (building a 3-1 lead after 40 minutes), put ourselves in a great position and then we sat back and they came at us a little bit and got two quick ones. Before we knew it, we were in another tie hockey game and headed to overtime. We were thinking to ourselves, 'How could we let it happen again?'. Fortunately, J.T. [Brown] had a great overtime goal for us that gave us a lot of confidence heading into Saturday.
CHN: What were you guys thinking about sitting on the bench between the third period and overtime? It would have been real easy to get down and maybe mail that one in.
JC: Guys were definitely disappointed heading into overtime. We had the lead and lost it and guys thought we shouldn't be heading into overtime. Our coaches did a great job, we stayed calm, we didn't panic, we still had five minutes of overtime to go and get the two points we felt we deserved. We played great great hockey in overtime, [Travis] Oleksuk won a great faceoff back to Brown and before we knew it, it was in the back of the net. It was a huge win for us. A big two points that we needed in the league and it has a lot to do with us not panicking and sticking to our game plan heading into overtime.
CHN: Are you guys where you want to be as a team right now heading into the last weekend and into the playoffs? If not, where do you feel you need to shore things up?
JC: I think we're close. With that rough patch, we needed to get our game going again and I felt like over the North Dakota, Mankato, CC series', I feel like we're taking steps in the right direction. I felt like we were making strides like we were playing earlier in the season against CC. I think we're close to where we want to be for the playoffs, but there is always things you can work on. Obviously, defensive play is one of them. We can tighten up our defensive zone a little bit, that will create more offense for us. Special teams is key. That is ultimately what will win and lose you games and our power play has been stepping up as of late. We struggled with that early in the year, but we seem to have gotten going lately. I think our penalty kill is still something we can improve on.
CHN: You never want to lose points, especially in a league that's as tight as this one. But can you look at that lull in your season as a blessing?
JC: We knew that unbeaten streak was going to come to an end sooner or later. It happened to come out in Omaha, which was OK. Its better to have it end then, than winning all the way through the end of the year and having an early exit in the postseason. It was definitely good for us though. We thought we should have played better in some of those games during that rough patch, but there's nothing you can do about it now.
CHN: How emotional was senior night for you last weekend, considering you're a hometown boy and everything that has happened for you and the program over the last four years?
JC: It was definitely emotional to go out there with my parents and the guys I came into the program with. Having your name announced with the stats and the accolades with the program and the fans cheering like that… being from the town, and knowing a lot of the people in the stands, it was definitely emotional. Sad to see it come to an end soon.