Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Now, Sioux! Now is your time!

I'm a bit of a military history buff. The battle I've probably studied more than any other is Waterloo. It occurred in Belgium in 1815 when a British-allied force led by the Duke of Wellington and a Prussian force led by Blucher teamed up to defeat a French army led by Napoleon.

The painting here depicts a defining moment of the battle. The French Imperial Guard, which to that moment had never known defeat, believes it has broken Wellington's defensive line and is marching to victory. But the British commander has cleverly concealed some of his best troops behind a ridge. They are lying down in corn fields. At the right moment, Wellington waves his hat and shouts an order to his brigade commander: "Now, Maitland! Now is your time!"

With that command, lines of red-coated British troops rose up and fired the devastating volleys of musketry for which they'd become famous. After mowing down France's finest infantry in waves, the British infantry followed up with a bayonet charge that sent what remained of the Imperial Guard fleeing back down the slope. Seeing the Guard running for their lives sent a shockwave through the French army, which crumbled under the pressure from the advancing Prussians. The French went down to defeat at Waterloo and Napoleon was vanquished for good.

Wellington went into the campaign not knowing how much he could trust the Prussians or the allied units of his army. But he knew that the British infantry, which provided the backbone of his force during the Napoleonic war in Portugal and Spain, were absolutely reliable and dependable in critical situations.

What does this have to do with Fighting Sioux hockey? To me, the British infantry of North Dakota's team heading to the NCAA Frozen Four in Denver this week are the seniors and juniors. If UND brings home its eighth national championship, it will be because the older, more experienced players on the roster stepped up and provided leadership when it was most needed and made the key plays at the critical points in two games.

Against Princeton in the NCAA Midwest Regional at Madison, it was senior goalie Jean-Philippe Lamoureux who prevented the Tigers from taking advantage of UND's slow start. It was junior forward Andrew Kozek who got the first goal. And it was Ryan Duncan, a junior and last year's Hobey Baker winner, who took the team on his back by scoring three straight goals to put the game out of reach.

In the game that sent the Sioux to the Frozen Four, Lamoureux once again came through with stellar goaltending that kept Wisconsin from running away with the contest after two periods of dominance. As assistant coach Dane Jackson noted on last week's Fighting Sioux Coaches Show, it was senior captain Rylan Kaip who scored the first UND goal against the Badgers and sent the message to his teammates: "Follow me!"

Forty-seven seconds later, Duncan tied the game after being set up beautifully by junior T.J. Oshie, who was playing in pain after blocking a shot during a Wisconsin power play. In overtime, it was Oshie's faceoff win in the Badgers' zone and senior defenseman Robbie Bina's shot from the point that resulted in the rebound that Kozek pounced on and stuffed in to end the game with a UND victory.

Much has been written about the pact that brought juniors Oshie, Duncan, Taylor Chorney and Joe Finley back to Grand Forks for another season of Sioux hockey rather than signing NHL contracts when they had the opportunity. But championships at UND aren't won by individuals. They're won by teams with players who lead by example and inspire everyone around them to be their best.

That's why I look back at the Battle of Waterloo and put my own spin on Wellington's famous line: Now, Bina, Kaip, Lamoureux, Radke, Chorney, Duncan, Finley, Jones, Kozek, Martens, Miller, Oshie, Walski and Watkins.

Now is your time!