Jake Guentzel, the former Hill-Murray star and son of Gophers associate head coach Mike Guentzel, seems to be making history every time he steps on the ice during the NHL playoffs with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Guentzel did it again Wednesday when he scored two goals, including the game-winner on a long rebound 10 seconds into the third period to help the Penguins to a 4-1 victory and a 2-0 series lead against Nashville in the Stanley Cup Final.
Guentzel, who grew up in Woodbury, now has 12 goals and seven assists in the playoffs, including three goals in the first two games of the Stanley Cup Final. He also has five game-winning goals in the postseason, the most ever by a rookie. His scoring game-winning goals in consecutive games in the finals has only been accomplished by a rookie one other time since the NHL took control of the trophy in 1926-27, by Boston’s Roy Conacher in 1939. His 12 goals are the most by an American rookie and two behind former North Star Dino Ciccarelli’s record-setting 14 in 1981. He’s three off the rookie playoff season points record.
His father, who has coached a number of NHL players, talked about how important it was for his son to land in Pittsburgh and how Penguins officials saw exactly how they wanted to use him in their system.
“The morning after his college team [Nebraska Omaha] lost, they said, ‘We think you’re ready and you should get an agent and get signed,’ ” Mike Guentzel recalled. “He went about that process. But even a year ago, when they sat us down and gave us the plan and the blueprint of what they thought, it’s almost come true word for word what they thought.
“[They said] ‘you have the ability to play [with] certain guys in our lineup, we see you being a winger and eventually transitioning to center.’ And that was new for him, but it’s happened exactly how they said it would. He has taken advantage of it, too. You still have to play and perform, and I think his training last summer and getting in there and playing [11 games for the AHL’s Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins] at the end of last year really helped him get a feel for what pro hockey is like.”
The story has long been told about how Guentzel was a stick boy on the Gophers team that featured Phil Kessel, now one of his Penguins teammates. Guentzel even wrote a feature about Kessel on The Players’ Tribune website in May. Mike Guentzel said Kessel, along with Minnesota native Matt Cullen, have really been good for Jake’s early career in Pittsburgh.
This is Cullen’s 19th NHL season, including three seasons with the Wild from 2010 to ’13, and he is still making big plays. He delivered a crushing hit in Game 2 and has two goals and seven assists in the postseason.
“Matt Cullen is just a solid guy and a veteran,” Mike Guentzel said. “He’s grizzled and has been there before and understands that whole thing. Guys like that, sometimes they do a good job of welcoming young guys to the locker room. Sometimes a kid comes in and has a little bit of success and somebody might get a little uptight that their spot is in jeopardy.
“Matt Cullen is literally a mentor and a father figure to those type of guys. His family would take Jake out to breakfast and make them feel a part of it. A guy like him is really a value to an organization and a young player like Jake.”
Kessel, meanwhile, has been one of Pittsburgh’s top scorers in the postseason with seven goals and 13 assists. Mike Guentzel said there’s no question Kessel and the Penguins understand what winning the Stanley Cup again would mean for their legacy.
“My son really thinks a lot of Phil, and you can read the stories going back to when he was at the U and things like that,” Mike said, “but you know what [Jake] told me the other night … ‘You know in the locker room he really cares.’ Sometimes people on the outside don’t really get that feeling that Phil deep down has that competitive heart, because he does things in his own way, a little bit differently. But he does compete and says things in the dressing room to provide leadership, and he scores big goals and he makes big plays. He’s a winner.
“Last year he just was revitalized when he went to Pittsburgh. I think he has that fire right now. These guys are creating legacies. When you win two or three or four Stanley Cups, you’re putting yourself in a position to maybe be a Hall of Famer and write a pretty good story about your career. These guys are close right now. This would be [Sidney] Crosby and [Evgeni] Malkin’s third and Phil’s second and that puts you in rare company. I think that means something to them.”
Dozier sees resiliency
Twins second baseman Brian Dozier wasn’t buying into the doom and gloom following the Twins’ disappointing 1-5 home stand.
“We’re a good team all around,” Dozier said. “We’ve had a few hiccups at home, but you have to win at home. We haven’t done that. If we weren’t winning on the road, that would be another story. I think we’re doing pretty well but we’re still going into June above .500 playing pretty good baseball, so let’s not lose sight of that.”
When a team hits a rough stretch like the Twins have recently, it’s easy to forget how well they have played to put themselves into position to weather that storm.
“The resilience is there,” Dozier said. “I think we showed that through the first two months. This is the second time we’ve been swept, especially here at home, but [we need to] have a short memory. It’s easier said than done but at the same time, I think we’re good enough to bounce back and get on the road and try to get a few wins.”
Dozier has been doing his part. After a slow start, he entered Thursday night’s game against the Angels having hit .289 over his previous 18 games with five doubles, three homers, 11 RBI and eight runs scored while taking 11 walks.
Naming rights at U
Gophers athletic director Mark Coyle was asked about rumors that the Gophers might sell the naming rights to Mariucci Arena.
“As you know with the Athletes Village and our ‘Nothing Short of Greatness’ campaign, you know we’ve raised over $102 million for our goal, and our goal is to generate revenue that can go back and support our student-athletes,” Coyle said. “When we talked about partnering with the business community, if there’s ways we can respectfully partner with that community and maintain the tradition of our great facilities and our great programs, we’re going to do that.
“Revenue is such a big part of what we’re trying to do. Our budget at Minnesota, we’re eighth in the Big Ten at $105 million. We’re competing against Ohio State, Michigan, Nebraska, Penn State, those people that are in that $140-$160 million range. There’s no doubt we need to continue to be innovative and continue to generate revenue to put back into our student-athletes to let us compete at a high level.”
Sid Hartman can be heard Monday and Friday on 830-AM at 8:40 a.m., Friday at 2 p.m. and Sunday at 10:30 a.m. firstname.lastname@example.org