Piecing The Puzzle Together

Throughout his college career, Barry Tallackson has been dogged by high expectations.

A native of Detroit Lakes, Minn., Tallackson played at St. Paul Johnson H.S. before joining the U.S. National Development Team based in Ann Arbor, Mich. He was ranked the top incoming college freshman by the independent Red Line Report, and reached Minnesota in fall 2001 amid anticipation that he would be a top contributor for the Gophers, who were rebuilding under then third-year head coach Don Lucia.

Tallackson scored 13-10–23 his freshman season while playing in all 44 of the Gophers’ games, and was a part of the Gophers’ first NCAA title in over two decades that season. The winger was drafted in the second round by the NHL’s New Jersey Devils after that season, cementing his status as an up-and-comer.

Barry Tallackson -- all 6-4, 211 pounds of him -- goes hard into a UNH defender during the 2003 NCAA title game (photo: Talya Arbisser).

Barry Tallackson — all 6-4, 211 pounds of him — goes hard into a UNH defender during the 2003 NCAA title game (photo: Talya Arbisser).

In 2002-03, Minnesota repeated its team feat with a second straight national championship, but Tallackson’s numbers, hindered by a shoulder injury that cost him nine games, as well as a stint with the U.S. team at the World Junior Championship, scarcely budged from his promising freshman year — though he did cap the Gophers’ NCAA run with the last two goals of the title game in a 5-1 win over New Hampshire.

His junior and senior seasons looked much the same, with 2004-05 also marred by a vacation among the ranks of the injured. For his career, Tallackson has compiled a modest 90 points in 155 games, never enjoying the breakout season that Minnesota fans expected.

But if Tallackson’s regular-season performances have sometimes puzzled observers, his New Hampshire doings were emblematic of an arena where he has shined: the playoffs.

Entering his senior year, Tallackson had compiled a point-per-game average in 21 postseason contests to rank among the Gophers’ top playoff performers. And after a quiet showing at the WCHA Final Five, he raised the bar with the biggest goal of his Gophers career, putting away his own rebound 4:31 into overtime to give Minnesota a 2-1 win over Cornell, earning the Gophers their third trip to the Frozen Four in Tallackson’s four-year career.

For his “Mr. March” label, Tallackson was short on mystic insights.

“When it comes to the playoffs, points just come easy to me,” he said.

Tallackson did, however, make sure to deflect the praise to just about everyone else on the Gophers after the title win at the West Regional.

“If it wasn’t for the juniors [stepping up], if it wasn’t for the freshmen and sophomores, we wouldn’t be here,” he said.

Nonetheless, Lucia has often pointed to Tallackson as a critical piece in the Gophers’ success. The 6-foot-4, 211-pounder showed his clutch scoring skills earlier in the year, netting the winning goal in the final minute of play on Feb. 5 against Wisconsin. That tally, in a 5-3 comeback win on the back end of a two-game series, might have been Tallackson’s career highlight as a Gopher until the Cornell game.

In the regional final, Lucia tabbed Tallackson for glory. What words of wisdom did the Gopher coach have for his player?

“‘Barry, you’re 6-foot-4,'” Lucia remembered telling Tallackson heading into overtime. “‘Get to the net, because we’re gonna win on a rebound.'”

That they did, though ironically, Tallackson’s performance went unrecorded in one official annal of the West Regional. He was left off the all-tournament team, though only because the ballots were collected before Tallackson ended the title game on his whack at a loose puck in front of Big Red netminder David McKee, the byproduct of Tallackson’s own initial shot from point-blank range.

That win set up a Frozen Four that looks awfully familiar to WCHA fans. The four teams headed to Columbus are the same four that played in the Final Five just a couple of weeks ago. Even the pairings for the national semifinals on April 7 should inspire deja vu.

The Colorado College-Denver matchup, at 2 p.m. ET, will reprise the WCHA championship game, while Minnesota and North Dakota will repeat the WCHA consolation at 7.

“We talked about what a great Final Five we had in terms of the quality of teams, that it was like a Frozen Four,” said Lucia. “And now it is the Frozen Four.”