Sid Hartman: Wheeler looked like Broten on winner

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 18, 2007 - 11:15 PM

Saturday night's sprawling goal that beat North Dakota in the WCHA final was very similar to Neal Broten's score in the 1979 national title game.

Gophers hockey coach Don Lucia said when he saw Blake Wheeler score the winning goal in overtime of the WCHA Final Five championship game Saturday night, it reminded him of a poster hanging in Mariucci Arena showing Neal Broten scoring against North Dakota in the 1979 national title game.

"Wheeler had an outstanding weekend for us [he got the hat trick against the Badgers Friday] and just made a great effort on that last goal, dove and flipped it right over the goaltender," Lucia said. "I think everybody was stunned for a second or two before they even reacted to the goal.

"Yeah, he was the first pick of Phoenix, and you know he's been getting better his two years here, and he's still got a ways to go. But he's made big strides this year and his play is a big reason why we won that Final Five championship."

Lucia said in his discussions with Phoenix officials that they like the development of Wheeler and what he has done this year to improve.

"He had to switch positions from right wing to center because of all those guys turning pro on us last year, and I think he's adapted well and he's improved a lot this year," Lucia said.

Wheeler described the winning goal: "The puck was just kind of going into the zone, and I had really no clue if they were calling icing. I mean the puck was just laying in front of me. I kind of beat the defensmen to it. I kind of saw the goalie sneaking out a little bit and just dove for it, and took a pretty good whack and surprisingly got pretty good wood on it and it found a =hole. I don't know how it went in, but it went in. Crazy stuff happens this time of year."

Wheeler credited his parents for his recent success.

"I just calmed down a lot," Wheeler said. "Me and my parents sat down a couple times the last couple weeks and just talked about what I need to do to kind of relax out there. I'd been playing a little uptight. I think I went into this weekend just playing really calm, and it paid off a lot for me."

Wheeler was willing to take part of the blame for the team's recent slump before it regained its groove.

"I wasn't doing as well as I wanted to do, and I put a lot of pressure on myself because I've always wanted to be a leader on this team," he said. "I just wanted to go out there and try to do everything, and you really can't take that approach if you want to be successful. So I kind of put it in perspective and just thought if I go out there and do my best, hopefully that will be enough to help the team win."

He agreed with Lucia that the best thing for his hockey future might be for him to come back to the Gophers for another year, but he stopped short of promising to be back.

"I've never been a part of an atmosphere like that [Saturday], and I don't know if I'll ever be a part of another atmosphere like that," he said. "I'm just having the time of my life on this ride right now. You know, I guess my focus right now is just on the rest of this year. You can't really take your head out of the focus for this year because we've had a special run, and to think about the future, that'd be kind of disrespecting what we're doing right now."

The Gophers have nine freshmen and a number of No. 1 draft picks, an indication of the great future for Gophers hockey, which sells out every game and puts on one of the great sports shows in this area.

Jottings

The Pohlad family and the Hennepin County commissioners are reported to be close to a deal where the Twins will agree to go along with the county plan to condemn the land in back of the Target Center, where the ballpark would be built.

It might take a year to get the final condemnation price, and if that runs over the figure the county can pay, which is about $13.5 million, the Pohlads would pay the difference. The actual deadline to start construction so the ballpark will open on schedule for the 2010 season is Aug. 1, according to a Twins official.

The Vikings still might bring back veteran offensive tackle Mike Rosenthal, whom they told to shop around and then come back to them, coach Brad Childress said. ... Jim Kleinsasser spent some time with Childress last week, and the coach said the experienced tight end is definitely in the Vikings' plans. Kleinsasser had elbow problems last year and had surgery to fix it.

Childress said he didn't feel that former Michigan and NFL quarterback Drew Henson got a fair opportunity with the Vikings last year, spending six weeks with the practice squad, and said he deserved a training camp to see if he could fit it.

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