By Matt Wellens
DULUTH — Back in April, during the first period of the 2018 NCAA championship game at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota Duluth wing Kobe Roth broke his fibula. Upon his return to Duluth, Roth had his leg surgically repaired with a plate and six screws.
Six months later, the only real concern for the sophomore from Warroad is going through airport security this season.
“That’s staying in there for, until forever,” Roth said of the plate and screws. “Hopefully so it never happens again.”
Despite the timing and severity of the injury, Roth wound up missing just two periods of his college career — the second and third of the national championship, unfortunately — and was back in the lineup last weekend for the first series of the regular season against Minnesota.
Last Saturday in Duluth, he was even back to playing alongside the two linemates he was with for all four NCAA tournament games — junior center Jade Miller and senior wing Billy Exell. On Sunday, Roth was moved up to play alongside second-line center Justin Richards and senior captain Parker Mackay.
The Bulldogs are in Houghton, Mich. this weekend for nonconference play Michigan Tech at 6:37 p.m. Friday and 6:07 p.m. Saturday. Roth is likely to be opposite Exell again, though with freshman Jesse Jacques of Hermantown possibly centering the line.
“He’s had a lot to overcome,” Exell said of Roth. “I know at the beginning of the year he still had a little pain when we first hopped on the ice. He’s put a lot of work in, in the weight room especially, with the trainers to get back to full strength.”
The ankle Roth injured last year at the Frozen Four was the same one that caused him to miss time as a senior at Warroad, though that injury was a high ankle sprain. Roth said because of that injury in high school, he had an idea of what to expect this time around when it came to recovery and rehab.
Roth spent much of the summer in a cast and then a walking boot while hobbling around on crutches. He remained in Duluth so he could work with UMD’s Dr. Susan ‘Suz’ Hoppe and strength and conditioning coach Jason Aldrich.
“I think I came back a little quicker than expected,” Roth said. “Suz was here with me everyday so that was a huge help to it.”
Roth might be back in the lineup, but he’s not quite back to being 100 percent. According to coach Scott Sandelin, Roth is a bit behind and there is some tentativeness in his game.
Roth has come a long way in the last month to get in better shape, though, and much of that is to be expected from a player six months removed from such a tough injury, Sandelin said.
“Thank God he’s a smart hockey player because he makes up for a lot of things with that,” Sandelin said. “I think the pace is getting better, I think his conditioning is getting better. Hopefully he gets more comfortable as we move into this weekend.”
Those smarts were on display Saturday at Amsoil Arena when Roth assisted on a power-play goal by senior center Peter Krieger to tie the Gophers at 1-1. The play started with junior wing Riley Tufte sending a bullet of a pass across the zone to Roth, who used what Sandelin called “a good, stiff stick” to put the puck on net, creating a rebound that Krieger was able to put away.
Sandelin said that was a big-time play by Roth.
“Those are not easy,” Sandelin said. “It’s not easy to be on your forehand and get a lot of steam on that shot. Sometimes it’s a tough angle. He did a great job, got his body in the right position and created a rebound off the shot. Peter was there to bury it.”
Roth has four goals and six assists in 32 career games with the Bulldogs and while the periods he missed on April 7 due to the broken leg were two biggies, that night in St. Paul wasn’t a total loss for Roth.
After watching the second and third periods from the locker room, Roth — in a leg boot — came out to the Bulldogs’ bench to celebrate with his team after the 2-1 win over Notre Dame. Senior wing Jared Thomas came over with a folding metal chair and teammates pushed Roth around the ice. He got to parade around the ice with the championship trophy and sit front and center in the team photo.
That was a special moment, Roth said.
“Right when it happened, I was in shock,” Roth said of his broken leg. “I didn’t know what to expect, didn’t know what to do with myself. Watching the game in the locker room and realizing that we’re going to do it, honestly, I didn’t know what I was going to do once we won. I was just sitting on the bench and, thankfully, Jared came and grabbed me. That was awesome I got to go out there with the team.”
NO. 3 UMD (0-1-1) AT NO. 19 MICHIGAN TECH (0-0)
What: Nonconference series
When: 6:37 p.m. today/6:07 p.m. Saturday
Where: John MacInnes Student Ice Arena, Houghton, Mich.
Radio: KDAL 610 AM/103.9 FM
Internet: flohockey.tv (video)
Fast facts: A rematch of last year’s IceBreaker championship game won 4-3 by the Huskies in Duluth, Tech’s upset victory over Northern Michigan in the WCHA championship on March 17 in Marquette, Mich., was one of four results that helped get the Bulldogs into the NCAA tournament by .0001 of a percentage point.
Matt Wellens (@mattwellens) can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (218) 723-5317.