The cost of Team USA basking in gold medal victory for Ryan Lindgren was more than the 137 texts his assistant coach received.
Lindgren celebrated the victory in the locker room with his teammates, however, he was unable to play in the gold medal game against Canada due to an illness that eventually caused him to lose ten pounds and eventually spend a couple days in the hospital. The University of Minnesota freshman defenseman said he first felt the effects the night prior to Team USA’s semifinal win over Russia.
“That day I wasn’t feeling great. The trainers were trying to help me out with fluids and different meds. In that Russia game I don’t think I was in my top form. I didn’t feel complete,” he said. “I did everything I could do to give it my all, but after that game I could just tell I wasn’t going to play in the finals. That’s when I started throwing up and stuff like that.”
He wasn’t the only US player ill during the World Juniors. Ohio State freshman Tanner Laczynski missed the Russia semifinal.
Before getting sick Lindgren was one Team USA’s top defenders. The Minneapolis native grew up watching the tournament featuring the best players under 20 and was named best player of the game when the Americans defeated Canada on New Year’s Eve in the preliminary round.
“Ryan was outstanding. He played an outstanding tournament. At the end of the game he was out there with (Boston University D) Charlie McAvoy trying to shut the best players down on the penalty kill,” Minnesota and Team USA assistant coach Grant Potulny said. “If you would have told me that we were going to play Canada for the championship game without Ryan Lindgren and we would have to kill six penalties, I would be nervous. He’s built for that game.”
Lindgren also spent a couple days in the hospital after getting back as a precaution. Wednesday was his first practice back.
“I had a virus that caused me to be throwing up. I had strep throat. I just wasn’t getting any better so they wanted to keep me there just to watch me a bit more until I got better. I’m feeling good now,” said Lindgren.
Although Lindgren wants to play this weekend against Michigan (8-9-1, 1-3-0-0 Big Ten), the Gophers do have experience missing him in the lineup. Minnesota (11-5-2, 3-1-0-0 Big Ten) has played three of the last four games without the freshman defenseman. At the same time, Lindgren’s international career is not over. He will have another chance to make the roster and play in the World Juniors next year.
“It was unbelievable. Being back in that USA sweater was really special,” said Lindgren, who was captain of the US U-18 WJC team in April. “For us to win gold in the end was pretty awesome and pretty special, even though I wasn’t able to play in the game. To go in the locker room after the game and celebrate with the guys and celebrate with my teammates meant a lot. It was pretty special.”
Illness going around
Besides Lindgren, a few Minnesota players have had some sort of bug in the two weeks between games.
Lucia mentioned that Ryan Zuhlsdorf missed five days practicing in the interim with flu-like symptoms. Connor Reilly had previously been sick leading up to the Mariucci Classic. While both were back practicing, leading scorer Tyler Sheehy was also absent from practice Wednesday.
All players, however, were at least healthy enough to skate the last two days. The team has no major injuries.
One Last Off Week
Minnesota’s schedule was set up in a way where it played a total of two games in five weeks. (This weekend’s opponent, Michigan, has the same set-up so neither team has an advantage.) The Mariucci Classic was followed with the team’s only second half bye, coming the first week of January. The next time the Gophers have an off week will be either because the season has ended or that the team is one of the last four left and have the week between the regionals and Frozen Four to rest.
While some of the team went and hunted or took advantage of schoolwork when Minnesota was off in November, neither applied this time around.
“We’re not in school right now so the last couple weeks have been laid back. Watch hockey games, hang out with the guys, guys go shopping - that kind of stuff,” said Jake Bischoff. “I think the rest was good ... that’s been our main mindset, just getting rested and ready to go. We play nine weeks in a row coming up.”
Bischoff added that he watched the World Juniors and that it was fun to see his defensive partner Ryan Lindgren win a gold medal.
Minnesota used its practice time to continue working on special teams, played some small practice games and tried to keep practices hard but short.
“The negative is we don’t have another off weekend the rest of the year. It would be nice to have it sometime in February when you can use a week off,” said head coach Don Lucia. “I’m anxious to get back to playing games.”
The Gophers’ stretch in February contains a six straight games between Penn State and Ohio State plus a home series against Wisconsin.
Luke Notermann update
Freshman forward Luke Notermann spent the entire first half scratched and appearing to be on the path to a redshirt season. The former Blaine HS forward is making the adjustment directly from high school.
Minnesota decided to use him in both Mariucci Classic games against Mercyhurst and UMass, slotting him on the third line with Leon Bristedt and Mike Szmatula. Notermann made a positive impact in his first impression.
“Physically he made a nice shot block, picked up an assist tonight, I thought he made good decisions. For his first game I thought he played confidentially. That’s good,” Lucia said following the Mercyhurst game. “We’ve been looking for some guys that can help us in our top nine from a scoring standpoint. We need to give him a look to see what see he can do.”
Lucia doubled down this week.
“I think he did a good job,” said Lucia. “Right now he needs reps and he needs minutes. He still has to press for ice time, but we like what we’re seeing in practice. He’s getting better. He’s going to continue to get opportunities. I’m not saying he’ll play every night, but he’ll continue to play.”
Notermann, for what it’s worth, was practicing on the third line Wednesday.
Military Appreciation Night
Friday’s game is Military Appreciation Night. Between that and the US winning a gold medal, there is a decent chance that the giant flag Minnesota brought out in 2013 makes a return appearance.
Nathan Wells is a college hockey columnist for SB Nation mostly covering both the University of Minnesota and Big Ten. You can also follow him on Twitter -- Follow @gopherstate