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College Hockey:
Leading scorer Haula points the way to Frozen Four for Minnesota

The Gophers are 12-1-1 this season when the sophomore scores a goal, and he's ready for the big stage.

Browse the list of Minnesota Golden Gophers postseason award honorees and you’ll find the likes of Nick Bjugstad with his scorer’s touch and NHL-ready 6-foot-5 frame, the freshman phenom Kyle Rau, Nate Schmidt with his big shot and great vision, and the quiet competitiveness of goaltender Kent Patterson.

Notably absent from the list is Minnesota’s leading points producer and, arguably, its most valuable player in sophomore forward Erik Haula.

2012ff 250 white Leading scorer Haula points the way to Frozen Four for Minnesota

For complete Frozen Four coverage, visit USCHO's Frozen Four Central.

As Haula goes, it seems, Minnesota goes. That bodes well for the Gophers heading into next week’s Frozen Four in Tampa, Fla., because right now it’s go time for Haula, whose 48 points (20-28–48) is double his output as a freshman.

His goal 20 seconds into the second period of last Sunday’s West Regional final against North Dakota put Minnesota in front 2-0 on their way to a 5-2 win for a berth in their first Frozen Four since 2005. The Gophers will face Boston College in Thursday’s 8 p.m. EDT semifinal following that afternoon’s clash between Ferris State and Union.

Haula’s goal — scored just days after his 21st birthday — gave him a team-leading 10 points (5-5–10) in five postseason games.

“When your team plays well, obviously individuals are going to do better and this year we’re going to the Frozen Four,” Haula said in an attempt to downplay his playoff performance. “It’s a great accomplishment but none of us could have done what we’ve done so far by themselves.”

A native of Pori, Finland, a city on the Finnish west coast roughly comparable in area to New York City but in population to Duluth, Minn., Haula learned much of his English from members of the American-style football team his father, Tomi, once coached who frequently stayed at the Haula home.

The Haula family traveled frequently to North America in Erik’s youth and, in fact, maintains a residence in Venice, Fla., only about an hour or so south of Tampa. Their travels led the Haulas to conclude that Erik’s hockey and educational needs would be best served by a move to the U.S. or Canada.

“I sat down with my family and we came up with Shattuck [St. Mary's] because of the great history they’ve had there,” Haula said of the Faribault, Minn., boarding school, home to such illustrious alumni as Sidney Crosby, Zach Parise and Jonathan Toews. “And we decided that I would want to go to college and work on my education as well.”

Haula registered 84 points (26-58–84) playing for Shattuck in 2008-09 and 72 more (28-44–72) the following season in helping to lead the Omaha Lancers to the USHL semifinals. Now in his second season at Minnesota, Haula has no second thoughts about the path he chose.

“I just couldn’t be more happy with the decisions I’ve made so far,” said Haula.

Haula’s effect upon his team, however, is not limited to this postseason run as the Minnesota Wild’s seventh-round pick (182nd overall) in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft has made an impact one way or another on the Gophers going back to late last season.

Mired in a sixth-place tie with Colorado College in mid-February, Minnesota began a weekend series at home with Denver facing the unusual proposition of playing on the road to open the WCHA playoffs for the second straight season. Denver’s 2-1 win on Friday night did nothing to alter that outlook.

The Gophers rebounded on Saturday, however, with a 7-3 win sparked, in part, by a goal and two assists from Haula, igniting a 5-0-2 finish for Minnesota that yielded home ice for the playoffs. Haula’s seven points (2-5–7) in that season-ending stretch accounted for more than 25 percent of his season total of 24.

But Alaska-Anchorage held the Gophers, Haula included, in check to stun Minnesota on its home ice with 4-3 and 2-0 wins to sweep the Gophers out of the playoffs.

“You never want to end your season on a bad note and it was probably the biggest disappointment of my hockey career,” Haula said of losing to Alaska-Anchorage and subsequently sitting out the WCHA Final Five. “It’s always crucial to get that home-ice advantage and for us to really blow it last year …”

His voice trailed off as the frustration of it all clearly remains simmering within him nearly 13 months later.

Possibly motivated by the early playoff exit, Haula went on a tear to begin his second season by putting up 17 points (7-10–17) in the season’s first seven games. In addition, he has 20 points (10-10–20) in his last 15 dating to a late-January series against St. Cloud State. That gives him 37 of his 48 total points in those 22 games, and Minnesota is 17-5 (.773) in that stretch.

“The season’s usually [about] ups and downs and you’ve just got to keep trying to get better and try to work on things you need to,” said Haula. “And I’ve been lucky enough to have a good finish here in the end.”

“I’ve never played in an environment like I will right now. It’s going to be the biggest stage of my career and I couldn’t be more excited.”

– Erik Haula

In between, though, came a 20-game, 11-point drought for Haula, and the Gophers suffered the effects in going just 11-8-1 (.575) in that time frame. Obviously, there is more to Minnesota’s record on both ends of the spectrum than Haula’s play, but the reflection of Haula’s production on Minnesota’s performance is enough to pique interest nonetheless.

“Erik got off to a great start and then in the middle of the year he kind of cooled and our team kind of cooled,” said Minnesota coach Don Lucia, whose team is 12-1-1 (.893) this season when Haula scores a goal. “At that point in time it was Bjugstad’s line that was carrying us.

“Now, all of a sudden, Haula’s line is probably doing more offensive work than anybody.”

By way of their first-place regular season finish, the Gophers, as chance would have it, earned a rematch with Alaska-Anchorage to open the playoffs for the second consecutive season. Haula, of course, relished the opportunity and took out his frustrations on the Seawolves to the tune of four goals, two assists, six shots, and a plus-6 plus/minus rating in Minnesota’s sweep to advance to its first Final Five since 2010.

“Big-time players need to step up in the playoffs and he, obviously, did that against Alaska-[Anchorage],” said senior linemate Jake Hansen, who has benefited from Haula assists on 11 of his 15 goals. “He’s playing well. He’s making plays, whether it’s making the right pass to set someone up or scoring the big goal.”

As one of the few Gophers players not within a “CSI” episode’s drive from home, Haula’s opportunities to spend time with family are rare. So it was no surprise that Haula said his first call after the North Dakota win was to his father.

“My first question was if he’d booked the tickets already,” Haula said of Tomi, who had indeed made such a purchase and will be flying in from Finland to see his son play.

After the disappointing finish to his freshman season, Haula said the success he’s experiencing with this team has made life more enjoyable both on and off the ice.

“This is definitely the most fun that I’ve ever had [as a player],” said Haula. “I’ve never played in an environment like I will right now. It’s going to be the biggest stage of my career and I couldn’t be more excited.”

Boston College earned its way to the Frozen Four in impressive fashion by way of consecutive shutouts over Air Force (2-0) and Minnesota-Duluth (4-0), but Haula is anything but concerned about facing the Eagles.

“I love all the pressure and all the hype that’s building between us and BC and I just can’t wait to play,” Haula said. “It’s going to be a great matchup because we’re both pretty good defensively, we both have hot goalies, and both have, I think, closer to 10 people who have plus-20 points so it’s definitely going to be a heavyweight tilt.

“We worked hard for this and we deserve it so it’s rewarding to get [to the Frozen Four] but we’re not satisfied yet.”


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  • Mike

    Very excited to see this guy in a Wild uniform too. But let’s focus on the task at hand – here’s to hoping Haula comes up big next week, and I bet he will!

  • Mr Hockey

    Couldn’t agree more. Haula stays 4 yrs @ Minnesota. Couple of reasons 1st to develop a little more and the Wild can watch that progress 1st hand. 2nd the WIld is loaded with young talent that will arrive starting this summer. Haula is great person, I predicted on another message board back in September he would lead the Gophers in scoring and he did.

    • patrickolson

      Yep, I don’t see him as being a player to leave early. The way he talks about education and making the right decisions make me think he will stay all four. Imagine if they could keep most of those players for another year or two. THAT is what you call a foundation.

    • Scpa0305

      Know matter what anyone says….it’s not up to the player….it’s up to the GM of the organization that holds his rights.  Plain and simple.  If Fletcher calls on Haula to make the jump after the year and play in the AHL next year that is exactly what he will do.  As fans of college hockey, we simply have to cross our fingers that the GMs don’t come a knocking.

      • Mr Hockey

        Fletcher won’t call for Haula. He has bigger worries like signing Granlund and going after Parise.

        • Scpa0305

          They are a lot further away than Granlund and Parise….they need a complete roster makeover. Anyway, no way he calls on Haula this year I agree, but next year is not far fetched.  NHL GM’s are not huge fans of the gopher development system so they usually pluck them as early as possible. If they are indeed NHL prospects to begin with.  Bjugstatd (sp?), for example is one while Haula may have to get a tad bigger.  But his game is nice. Rau…..he has a super long way to go.  I was walking next to him at the Wild vs FLA game and that dude is so small.  I was shocked.

          • Guest

            Garth Snow doesn’t like Minnesota… Not all GM’s…

            Its funny how some of these GM’s take kids out of all college programs and their development doesn’t get much better in the AHL…. Just look at Jordan Schroeder, he hasn’t done much and would have benefited at staying in school for atleast 3 years..

            Staying seemed to work for Blake Wheeler, J. Towes, Parise, and others.

          • Wildwings1969

            Jordan Leopold came back for Senior season and won the NCAA Title and the Hobey Baker Award. Garth, when was the last time your team made the Playoffs? Pretty sure it has been a while. So you have no right to say bad things about your draft pick’s team. Head Coach D.Lucia of Gophers has won 2 NCAA Titles and has been to other Frozen Four’s. You have not done much at all for your team. When you start winning Titles then maybe you can talk your BS,until then keep your mouth shut you jerk!

      • Wildwings1969

        That is not true. Just because they drafted him they can’t make him play in the NHL. The Wild usually leaves it up to the player. Also the Wild does have a lot of young players that will make their team. Jason Zucker just signed and played,Michael Granlund should make the team, Charlie Coyle and don’t recall another 1st round College player from the Brent Burns trade.

    • Wildwings1969

      I think you are right.By the time he is a Senior he will be Hobey Baker good! I read that Nick Bjugstad will come back next year also.Was in a Charlie Walter”s column. He has been the best sports writer for Pioneer Press for a long time and would not write it if he didn’t think it would happen. If the Gophers can keep all their Fresh. and Soph’s they could be a very dangerous team next year. Whatever happens in the Frozen Four i am so proud of this team. A 6th NCAA Title would be the icing on the cake! Go Golden Gophers!!!

  • Dlippiello

    I am a huge Union/ECAC fan but I have so much respect for the Uni of Minn program and their players. This is a great article on what sounds like a great hockey player and person. Good luck to Haula next weekend and even more luck in his future. I will be rooting for him big time in the NHL!

    • Mr Hockey

      We as Gopher fans appreciate the kind words. I know, most think the Gopher players are coddled but the truth is it’s the opposite. They’re under the microscope, all games are on tv, all home games are sellouts (not always a full house though:), and beat writers from newspapers and radio following them around. It’s a different situation but it’s fun to be around as well.

    • ibanezist00

      Wait, you’re being classy and showing respect on another conference’s feature comment thread? Be still my beating heart, I thought college hockey fans never did that! Now if we didn’t have the reverse happen all the time, maybe we would have more constructive, analytical conversation about college hockey on this site.

      But maybe we’re only allowed to talk when the conference we care about actually wins a title, or something.

  • patrickolson

    It’s nice to finally see him getting some recognition. I have wondered all year why he hasn’t been more in the spotlight. Seems it was always Bjugstad, Bjugstad, Bjugstad, Rau, Rau, Rau. Not that they don’t deserve it, just saying that Haula should have been in that conversation as well.

    • Mr Hockey

      Maybe thats the key to some of his success? I think he plays harder trying to gain attention maybe thats for the better? I’m with you though he deserves more credit.

      • patrickolson

        Yep perhaps. If that’s the case, lets hope this recent spurt of coverage doesn’t change that!

      • Wildwings1969

        I think all he really cares about is winning the games. He’s a team player with no ego problems.I do agree he should get more attention and that will come.If he stays 4 yrs. he will be in the Hobey Baker debate.

    • CloudyState

      Maybe Haula didn’t get the top billing that he deserves because he wasn’t Minnesota Home Grown.

      • mahogma

        Any given player’s popularity rises and falls with how well they have been playing,and Haula has been on a tear. The “Minnesota home-grown” theory is baseless. When Thomas Vanek played for the Gophers,he was one of the best and one of the most popular players on the team,and he’s Austrian.

  • beefheart

    But,um, I mean he’s really from Minnesota, right? I mean, like Pori Finland is in Scandia, I think. Hopefully Pori Finland is in western Scandia so he was never too close to Wiconsin……Go Gophs. P.S. Haula is a beast!

    • Fan Man

       Nothing like having a cupcake team with a few sprinkles of Finland,Wisconsin,Missouri, and Colorado on there!  J/k!  As for Haula, best decision he ever made was to go and play at Shattuck’s… 
      Haula at your boy

  • SIOUXFAN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    SIOUX YEAH YEAH!!!

    • gophersnotgolfers

      Whioux?

    • Slaughter

      Lamest.  Cheer.  Ever.  

      • Mr Hockey

        I agree

      • Scpa0305

        Not classy….typical gophers fans.  That was obviously a gopher fan.

        • Guest

          Yeah and its so classy for a North Dakota fan, ( they have no nickname ) to go on a blog about a Minnesota team story and rah..rah…rah for the ???

          The season is over for North Dakota, just go and hope for better next year.

        • WCHA HOCKEY

          Typical Sioux fan ^^^^^^

    • Wildwings1969

      That’s funny the last time i saw them they were wearing N.Dakota jerseys.Your team is toast. Stale toast. Maybe next year sue fan!

  • Leggs2

    Minne looked VERY strong against UND, in all facets of the game.  I think the game with BC will be unbelievable.

  • Leggs2

    Sorry to rodent fans:  Union-BC final.