02/28/2014 6:31 PM
More Than a Tough Guy
By Tom Witosky www.iowawild.com
Follow Tom @toskyAHLWild
Curt Gogol knew immediately he’d made a mistake with his center ice pass to Iowa Wild teammate Taylor Matson in mid-February.
As Matson received the pass, Rockford defenseman Klas Dahlbeck – all 6’2’’ and 206 pounds of him – leveled the 6-foot, 185-pound Matson with a vicious upper body check.
“I gave Taylor a sewer pass,” Gogol remembered this week. “He was cutting across the neutral zone and I got it to him on his tape, but I still shouldn’t have put him in that situation where he was going to get his head taken off. So I felt required to stick up for him.”
With Matson sprawling on the ice, Gogol immediately challenged Dahlbeck with helmet and gloves off. In quick order, Gogol delivered a series of seven punches, then for good measure finished it with an eighth to Dahlbeck’s chin before going to the penalty box.
“I don’t think Dahlbeck is going to try to clobber guys like that again knowing he is going to have to fight,” Gogol said. “It is about holding everybody on the ice accountable for their actions.”
Gogol, who ranks in the top 10 of AHL players for penalty minutes this season, understands his role often includes defending his new teammates with his fists, but don’t assume that’s all Gogol contributes when he is on the ice.
Since arriving in Iowa following a Feb. 5 trade that sent former Iowa Wild forward Chad Rau to Worcester for Gogol and forward Riley Brace, Gogol has impressed the Wild coaching staff with his hockey talent not just his fists in his first eight games.
“The staged tough guy I can do without,” Coach Kurt Kleinendorst said. “Curt is a skilled hockey player, who skates well; shoots well; passes the puck, and does all the other things and doesn’t mind fighting. To me, that’s a perfect combination of what you want a hockey player to be.”
And, an added advantage is that 22-year-old Calgary native, who has a year left on his entry-level contract, genuinely wants to play within the Minnesota Wild organization and already has grown to like Des Moines even though he assumed he was headed to Houston.
“When I found out that I was coming to Minnesota, I actually thought I was going to Houston, I didn’t even know the team was in Des Moines,” he said.
But a change of scenery combined with a new team, a new division and a new city was just what Gogol wanted.
“Nothing against Worcester, I like Des Moines a lot better,” Gogol said. “We had a great group of guys in Worcester and I have nothing bad to say about Worcester. But the crowds we get here and atmosphere in the rink here is really good. I like the town a lot.”
As for playing for the Wild, Gogol said that while he was surprised he ended up in Des Moines, he believed that his chances of moving up in the Sharks organization had diminished greatly despite having a good season in Worcester.
“I was helping out our team in every aspect of the game and I thought I was really coming along as a player,” he said. “But it got to a point where I realized I wasn’t going to get called up to San Jose, so it became pretty clear there was no point for me to being here any longer.”
In Worcester, Gogol became a member of what local fans affectionately called the “Goon Squad” – a group of players who last year each generated more than 100 penalty minutes including three of them with more than 160 minutes in penalties. Gogol was one of the three.
“It was hard to get a fight because we had so many contenders,” Gogol quipped, adding that he has already discovered there is a difference between fighting in the AHL’s Eastern Division and the Western Division.
Gogol concedes that he likely has inherited his hockey personality from his father, Brent Gogol, who recorded 511 penalty minutes in one season in the Western Canadian Hockey League. As he was growing up, the two would often don boxing gloves and spar.
“We’ve moved on from that because my Dad is older,” Gogol said with a laugh, but added he is looking for a place to box in Des Moines. “I’ve got my gloves with me. I find that when I work with a boxing coach I stay fresher and my endurance for fights is a lot better.”
Fights occur in the Western Division because something has happened on the ice that has caused it. In the East, fights happen because it is expected, he said.
“I knew going into every game against Manchester, I’d be fighting Richard Clune ,” Gogol said. “And, Jimmy Bonneau would be fighting Justin Johnson. So they were more staged over there.”
Gogol also said that the Eastern Division teams each have several fighters on their rosters – players like Wilkes Barre-Scranton’s Steve McIntyre, Bridgeport’s Brent Gallant and Hershey’s Joel Rechlicz, who even he shied away from.
“I am not really afraid to go up against anyone if necessary, but I also didn’t see much use in going up against someone like Steve McIntyre,” he said. “I don’t think I’d look the same after a fight with him.”
Kleinendorst said that he didn’t know much about Gogol at the time of the trade, but hoped that Gogol would add some additional energy to the Wild locker room at time when they needed that kind of help.
“There was an element that we thought we lacked just a bit,” Kleinendorst said. “And if you watch Curt play, you will see what I am talking about. He plays hard. He finishes every check, he is fearless. He is very much into the game.”
Kleinendorst agreed that hockey fights serve the purpose of keeping players accountable to each other, but shouldn’t be overemphasized.
“I like a good fight, but I like it to be spontaneous,” Kleinendorst said. “I like it when two guys drop gloves because someone has done something unsettling to the other one. Then the other guy accepts the challenge. That is just part of our game.”
Gogol said that his goal is to get more minutes as the rest of the season proceeds and hopes to help the Wild make the long climb into the Calder Cup playoffs. To gauge his progress, Gogol said that the plus/minus rating is what he uses, which is now at -1 in eight games.
“I want to be a player who can be thrown out onto the ice in all situations and have Kurt trust me in those situations to defend well against the other team,” he said.
Gogol said that as the trust in his playing ability continues to grow there will be a better chance for him to move up to the NHL.
“I would have liked to have games already in the NHL, but I believe I am on the right track,” Gogol said. “ I think as long as I stick to the plan, stick to my role, work hard, I will get rewarded eventually.