Watch any hockey game and they are not difficult to identify. At times it seems they are constantly on the ice dazzling us with feats of skill and creativity which sets them apart from the rest.
You hear their names called out over the P.A. system with far greater frequency than most and, long after their teammates have departed for the dressing room, they can be seen on the bench honoring yet another media request.
Of course we’re referring to the team’s star player whose name can be found prominently listed in the box scores, stat sheets, game recaps, and feature articles far more often than many of his teammates. The reason for this is simple; they are very good at what they do and, rightly so, are revered for it.
But there is more to hockey than scoring a highlight-reel goal, making a game-saving stop, burying a blast from the point or threading a pass through traffic to set up a teammate for a back-door tap-in.
There are shots to be blocked, battles to be won along the wall on both ends, trailers to be picked up, and, in many cases, crucial goals to be scored. Obviously, elite players contribute in these areas too, but there are others who thrive upon performing these tasks on a shift-by-shift basis.
But you must watch carefully to see it because the P.A. announcer isn’t going to tip you off to it.
With the WCHA’s season officially concluding this weekend in St. Paul, we thought it might be a good time to honor some of the league’s unsung heroes whose impact upon their respective teams was, for the most part, more subtle but no less critical to whatever degree of success his team achieved.
It’s a list featuring two full five-man units (with a slight liberty taken) and two goalies containing a little bit of everything from grinders to scorers, captains to practice players, and shut-down defensemen to a part-time defenseman. But they all have one thing in common; their teams were made better by their presence.
With that said, we proudly present to you USCHO’s 2011-12 All-WCHA Unsung Team.
F – Michael Mersch, so. (Wisconsin) Finished second on his team with 14 goals and added 16 assists, but is lauded by teammates for raising havoc in front of the net and his work along the boards and in the corners.
F – Brent Gwidt, jr. (Nebraska-Omaha) Nebraska-Omaha’s alternate captain more than doubled his previous career highs from the past two seasons combined with six goals and 15 points in all 38 games for the Mavericks in 2011-12. A left wing who has also played out of position at center due to UNO personnel shortages, Gwidt’s disciplined play has resulted in just four penalty minutes.
F – Nick Dineen, sr. (Colorado College) Dineen was a unanimous choice to serve as captain of the Tigers this season. While the wow factor of his overall numbers is low, Dineen’s four game-winning goals tied him for the team lead and his willingness to sacrifice his body to block shots and do what’s necessary in the “dirty areas” of the ice has earned him the utmost respect from his entire team.
F – Jake Hendrickson, jr. (Minnesota-Duluth) Hendrickson does the little things which, although crucial to a team’s success, rarely show up on the scoresheet. There are no shifts off for Hendrickson who, as anchor of UMD’s top defensive pairing, is consistently matched up with the opponent’s top line and spends a substantial amount of his minutes on the penalty-kill unit.
“Jake’s line is most effective in controlling the puck and being responsible on defense. That line has accepted its role and provides energy. It’s a good sign we’re getting contributions from everyone and if you had to name an unsung hero for this season, it would be Jake.” UMD Head coach Scott Sandelin.
F – Ben Hanowski, jr. (St. Cloud State) Despite more than doubling his previous career high of 20 points with a team-leading 22 goals and 42 points this season, St. Cloud State’s junior captain was left behind when WCHA hardware was handed out last week. Hanowski plays in all situations and scored four game-winning goals for the Huskies. He was a mainstay in terms of presence and performance throughout SCSU’s brutal midseason stretch of injury and defection. His 12 points (7-5–12) led the Huskies to a 7-2-1 record in their last 10 games which earned St. Cloud State its berth in in the Final Five.
F – Ben Kinne, jr, (Bemidji State) Kinne sat out what would have been his entire junior season as a precaution after suffering a stroke on July 23, 2010 during offseason workouts near his St. Paul home. Kinne returned as a redshirt junior captain for the Beavers and didn’t miss a step. His 22 total points are just two fewer than he had two years ago and 30 percent of his 10 goals this season were game winners.
D – Jake Parenteau, so. (Minnesota) Players may not come more unsung than Jake Parenteau who has been whistled for just one minor penalty this season and is a plus 11 playing alongside defensive partner Nate Schmidt. Parenteau scored just one goal this season (the first of his career) but it could not have come at a better time. His overtime winner at Nebraska-Omaha on Feb. 24 could have meant the difference between sole or shared possession of the MacNaughton Cup.
D – Andrew MacWilliam, jr. (North Dakota) Arguably the most physical defenseman in the WCHA and a fearless shot blocker, MacWilliam is as reliable as they come in his own zone. While his stats won’t necessarily impress you (six points), his ability to quickly move the puck out of the defensive zone relative to his offensive production just might surprise you.
D – Joe Schiller, sr. (Minnesota State) The Minnesota-State assistant captain’s versatility has had him play both forward and defense throughout his career in Mankato. Although he has only played four games on the blue line this season (all prior to Christmas), for the purpose of positional balance in this list he is listed at defense. A three-time WCHA All-Academic and three-time WCHA Scholar-Athlete recipient whose GPA is nearly 4.0, Schiller enjoyed a breakout season in setting career highs for assists (15) and points (18) after beginning his senior season with just 13 career points.
D – Bradley Stebner, so. (Michigan Tech) Recorded just a single point last year as a freshman but came back as a sophomore to multiply that by 10 (3-7–10). More importantly, however, Stebner led the Huskies in plus/minus both overall (plus 12) and in conference play (plus 15) by wide margins over David Johnstone, who finished second on both counts at plus seven and plus six respectively.
G – Dusan Sidor, sr. (Alaska-Anchorage) A marketing major with a 3.87 grade-point average, Sidor started only two games in his career and dressed for just two more in his four years. Praised by coach Dave Shyiak for his team-first mentality, the Seawolves honored Sidor with his first and only start of his collegiate career on home ice on Saturday, March 3 for Senior Night. Sidor made 23 saves in a loss to Bemidji State.
“Dusan’s work ethic is unmatched both off season and on the ice during regular season. He works hard every day so he will be ready if called upon.” UAA goalie coach Scott Johnson.
G – Juho Olkinuora, fr. (Denver) Not even expected to be on Denver’s roster this season, Olkinuora was a late addition to the Pioneers due to the injury of Sam Brittain. At various times served as a backup, split duties with both Adam Murray and Brittain, and served as DU’s starter in goal when Murray went down with an injury. Olkinuora finished the regular season with an 8-6-3 record, a 2.14 GAA and. 926 Sv% (both second in WCHA). The rookie finished his regular season with a March 2 shut out of Nebraska-Omaha on 26 saves.