Minnesota’s Jackson LaCombe earns first Big Ten star as WCHA honors a couple – The Rink Live

MINNEAPOLIS – A few Fridays ago, things got desperate for the Minnesota Gophers at a game at Notre Dame. They were down by one goal and faced a notoriously stingy Fighting Irish defense. Gophers goalie Justen Close was benched in favor of an additional attacker and the visitors pressed on, throwing everything they had into the home side’s net.

Of course, the puck matched Gophers veteran defenseman Jackson LaCombe, who uncorked a shot … that sailed high and far over the net. Luckily for the Gophers, they got the rebound that came off the glass behind the net and got the puck back to LaCombe for another try. This time his shot was true, weaving through a jumble of sticks and bodies and into the back of the net, giving the Gophers a valuable tie and associated conference scoring point.

A Friday later, at home against Michigan, LaCombe did it again, uncorking a one-timer off the blue line late in the third period to force overtime in a game that Matthew Knies eventually won in overtime after an assist from LaCombe would. Overall, the defenseman with a big smile and bushy blonde curly hair had four points in the split with the Wolverines and earned the first star of the week from the Big Ten.

While praising one of his two Hobey Baker Award-nominated defenders — Brock Faber is the other — Gophers coach Bob Motzko nodded to sequences like the one at Notre Dame, where LaCombe scored 50% of his shots in the last minute, finally bind the game.

“If he hits the net he’s dangerous, but he’s a .300 hitter. We’re working on his batting average,” Motzko said with a grin. “If he hits it, it’s in. I don’t usually say this in the media, but we pushed him and see what happened. A bit of desperation late in the games.”

LaCombe, who played well into his prep hockey career at Shattuck-St. Mary’s, saw his game blossom when he switched to the blue line. He was second-round picked by Anaheim in 2019 and is widely expected to step into an NHL role once his college career is over and his agent — who is also his father Chris — strikes a favorable deal with the Ducks negotiated.

Gophers recruit Jackson LaCombe speaks to the media after being selected by the Anaheim Ducks in the second round of the 2019 NHL Draft. Courtesy of Nate Ewell, College Hockey, Inc.

With a huge grin after Friday’s win against Michigan, he admitted he’s been working “a lot” on his accuracy.

“I think a couple of times there I’ve missed the net on some of these one-timers, and obviously if it does go to the net, it has a pretty good chance,” LaCombe said. He is now tied with newcomer Logan Cooley for the team lead in assists at 19 and his six goals all appear to have come at the right time.

That includes a hit in a Saturday win in Michigan in November, when the Gophers were missing two of their top three centers and prompted Motzko LaCombe to reconsider his roots as a forward. He only played one shift, running down the left wing with Knies down the middle, taking a shot and scoring a goal. LaCombe smiled again when he was jokingly told that he could be the most successful forward in Gophers hockey’s more than hundred-year history.

That certainly sounds like someone whose game is on the right track.

Madison Kaiser of the Minnesota Gophers

Jason Wachter / The Rink Live

Heise and Kaiser honored by the WCHA

After a win in Bemidji State last weekend, the WCHA presented Gophers hockey forwards Taylor Heise and Madison Kaiser with an hour of conference.

Heise was named Forward of the Week after a five-point weekend against the Beavers that kept her atop the team’s scoring leaderboard. It was the fourth time that Heise was recognized by the WCHA this season.

Kaiser, a freshman from Andover, Minnesota, made her debut at Bemidji State, where she honored her family history with two assists in each of the victories over the Beavers. In the early 1970s, Kaiser’s maternal grandfather, Blane Comstock, was a star goalie for the Beavers who guided them to a quartet of NAIA national titles and supported Team USA at the 1976 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria. Kaiser is now second in the standings among the Gophers rookies with four goals and eight assists.


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