Minnesota's Jackson LaCombe earns Big Ten first star recognition while WCHA honors pair
When the Minnesota Gophers need to force overtime lately, they turn to the lanky guy on the blue line with the skills of a defenseman and the instincts of a forward. Also: WCHA honors Heise, Kaiser.
MINNEAPOLIS — Things had gotten desperate for the Minnesota Gophers in a game at Notre Dame a few Fridays ago. They were down by a goal, on the road, facing a notoriously stingy Fighting Irish defense. Gophers goalie Justen Close was on the bench in favor of an extra attacker, and the visitors were pressing, throwing everything they had at the home team’s net.
Naturally, the worked the puck to Gophers veteran defenseman Jackson LaCombe who uncorked a shot…which sailed high and wide of the net. Thankfully 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, snaking its way through a mess of sticks and bodies and into the back of the net, earning the Gophers a valuable tie and the conference standings point that goes along with it.
One Friday later, at home versus Michigan, LaCombe did it again, uncorking a one-timer from the blue line late in the third period to force overtime in a game Matthew Knies would eventually win in overtime, after an assist from LaCombe. In all, the defenseman with a wide smile and a bushy head of blonde, curly hair had four points in the split with the Wolverines, earning first star of the week honors from the Big Ten.
#COMBER4HOBEY pic.twitter.com/IKT6ZKy5qT— Minnesota Men’s Hockey (@GopherHockey) January 21, 2023
While praising one of his two defensemen that is a Hobey Baker Award nominee — Brock Faber is the other — Gophers coach Bob Motzko gave a nod to sequences like the one at Notre Dame, where LaCombe connected on 50% of his shots in the final minute, eventually tying the game.
“When he hits the net, he’s dangerous, but he’s a .300 batter. We’re working on his batting average,” Motzko said with a grin. “When he hits it, it’s in. I usually don’t say that in the media, but we’ve been pushing on him and look what happened. A little desperation late in games.”
LaCombe, who played forward until well into his prep hockey career at Shattuck-St. Mary’s, saw his game blossom when he moved to the blue line. He was a second round pick by Anaheim in 2019 and is widely expected to step into a NHL role as soon as his college career is done and his agent — who is also his father, Chris — negotiates a favorable pact with the Ducks.
With a broad grin following Friday’s win over Michigan, he admitted doing some “at lot” of work on his accuracy.
“I think a few times there I missed the net on some of those one-timers there, and obviously when it gets on net it’s (got) a pretty good chance,” LaCombe said. He is now tied with freshman forward Logan Cooley for the team lead in assists with 19, and his six goals have seemingly all come at the right time.
That includes scoring in a Saturday win at Michigan in November when the Gophers were missing two of their three top centers and Motzko called on LaCombe to revisit his roots as a forward. He played just one shift, skating on the left wing with Knies at center, took one shot and scored one goal. LaCombe flashed that trademark smile again when was told, jokingly, that he might be the most successful forward in the century-plus history of Gophers hockey.
That certainly sounds like someone whose game is on target.
Heise and Kaiser honored by WCHA
After a sweep at Bemidji State last weekend, the WCHA handed hour conference honors to Gophers women’s hockey forwards Taylor Heise and Madison Kaiser.
Heise was named the conference’s forward of the week following a five-point weekend versus the Beavers that kept her atop the team’s scoring leaderboard. It was the fourth time that Heise has been acknowledged by the WCHA this season.
Kaiser, a freshman from Andover, Minnesota, was playing at Bemidji State for the first time, and honored her family history there with two assists in each of the wins over the Beavers. In the early 1970s, Kaiser’s maternal grandfather Blane Comstock was a star goalie for the Beavers, leading them to a quartet of NAIA national titles, and backstopping Team USA at the 1976 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria. Kaiser is now second among Gophers rookies in scoring with four goals and eight assists.