North Dakota captain Chris Porter will be playing in his 175th consecutive game (a WCHA record) when he takes his position at right wing on the Fighting Sioux's second line in St. Louis on Thursday. His collegiate career might already be over had he not stuffed a wraparound shot between the skates of Minnesota goalie Jeff Frazee last weekend in overtime of the NCAA West Regional final in Denver.
The goal was the 11th of the season for Porter, a senior from Thunder Bay, Ontario, and it prompted voters to name him MVP of the West Regional. As he prepares to head to his third consecutive Frozen Four, Porter took a few minutes to talk to INCH about his ironman streak, his team's amazing second half, and what it will take to end his college hockey days with two more wins.
Inside College Hockey: How does qualifying for the Frozen Four for the third time feel in comparison to the first two?
Chris Porter: I think this one feels a little bit more special, seeing the route we had to take in the second half of the season after being basically counted out by everybody. To come back and finish up the way we have has been pretty special and to beat the Gophers to get there makes it that much better because the rivalry is so special.
INCH: Did you guys have some kind of special Christmas dinner, or what was it that made the difference between the disappointing first half and the amazing second half of your season?
Porter: I don't know that there was much of a change. It was more just an attitude that we took on with the mentality of playoff hockey, and taking it one game at a time. Before Christmas we just didn't get the bounces we were looking for. In the second half we've worked a little bit harder and the bounces have gone our way a little bit more.
INCH: In the preseason, everyone talked about Jonathan Toews and T.J. Oshie. Has the season Ryan Duncan put together surprised you?
Porter: I don't know if it necessarily surprised us. He was touted, coming in here, as a goal-scorer and he's worked hard. A lot of the people who doubted him, he's proven wrong, and he's playing with two pretty good players, so that's helped him out. He deserves all of the accolades he gets. Him scoring the amount of goals that he has really kept our season alive. He's scored some timely goals and without that, I don't know if we're in this position right now.
INCH: It wasn't until late February that people started talking about you and the consecutive games record. When did you become aware that you had a shot at it?
Porter: I didn't know much about the record until maybe halfway through the first half, our radio guy mentioned it to me, and I didn't pay much attention to it. As I got closer I guess it became a little bit more important. I've been lucky to be able to play in all these games, and I guess it's showed the success our team has had. You can't get close to that record unless you play in a lot of postseason games.
INCH: When was the last time you missed a game?
Porter: In bantams when I was 13 or 14, I broke my arm, and that was the last time I've actually missed a game. There have been times throughout my college career when I've been bumped up pretty good, but our training staff has done a great job of getting me ready to go. I've had the privilege of coming in as a freshman and getting to play every game. I've had coaches who have trusted in me and put me out there. I've been lucky not to have a serious injury in the middle of the season.
INCH: Do you remember a college game when you felt like you couldn't go in warmups?
Porter: There were a few times where I felt pretty bad going into warmups and not really sure if I could go. Somehow I've managed to battle through it.
INCH: Tell me about your line of Chris VandeVelde and Matt Watkins. It's a relatively new trio, right?
Porter: Watkins and I have been together all year. I think we've played together every game. Matt got hurt in Denver, and Chris stepped in there, and when Matt came back coach put the three of us together. I think we've only played three or four games together now. I guess we've really clicked.
INCH: How has it worked so well with the three of you being put together this late in the season?
Porter: It comes back to the fact that all three of us play the same way. We use our speed and our size to our advantage, and we're kind of a "grind it out"-type line. We're putting pucks to the net and going there. If you look at the goals we've scored since St. Paul and in Denver, they're about putting pucks to the net. One guy is always going to the net and that's how we've been successful. We're playing well in the defensive zone, but in the past two weekends we've spent most of our time in the offensive zone.
INCH: What's your role as the second unit behind that amazing top line?
Porter: The first line is going to get the other team's best line. We just pride ourselves on trying to outwork the next unit that comes out against us. We want to chip in offensively wherever we can, but we're asked to play great defensively. We're three big players that can play well in the offensive zone so I think we really help that first line out, and take a little pressure off them to not have to try to score every single night. It gives the rest of the team a lot of confidence because we've relied on (the top line) quite heavily over the first half of the season and I think one reason we've done so well in the second half is we've had all four lines chipping in.
INCH: What did you think during the Michigan game in Denver when one minute in you're down 2-0?
Porter: We honestly weren't too concerned. It was only one minute into the game and there were 59 more minutes left. Michigan came out and played really well and pushed us back, big time. We didn't get the start we wanted but we settled in after that and started playing the way we needed to. Getting those power play goals and having our power play working definitely saved our season. Michigan surprised us with the speed they had in all four lines. I don't know if we were ready for that right away, but we played our game the rest of the way.
INCH: It seemed like the last two times you played Minnesota, it was tight-checking, defensive hockey. Was it strange to play that kind of game with so much offensive talent on both teams?
Porter: Both teams have a lot of skill up front and on the back end. We got to know each other and when we were out there on the ice, no team wanted to make a mistake, especially in this last game and in the Final Five game. You're playing for a chance to move on and win a championship and the mistakes are definitely magnified, so that's the reason for it being so low-scoring. Neither team wanted to make a mistake or make a bad gamble. But there were still quite a few good chances. The goalies played well in both games.
INCH: Describe the overtime winner versus Minnesota.
Porter: It was at the end of the long shift and we caught them on a little bit of a change. Watkins gained the line and it was chipped low. I jumped on it quick and put it on net. As I was wrapping it around I noticed that nobody was on me so I was going to put it on net and go for a line change. As I wrapped it around it was almost like slow motion, watching the puck cross the line. I was actually turning to go to the bench as I was watching the net and it happened to go in.
INCH: So you got more rest than you were expecting when you headed to the bench?
Porter: (Laughing) A lot more. It was a great feeling and it was great to have the rest of the team join me.
INCH: Did you see Erik Johnson heading your way before the wraparound?
Porter: Not at all. When I picked it up I knew he was the one checking me at first, but when went behind the net I knew he'd left me a little bit. As I came around the net I saw [Derek] Peltier poke checking, but at that point I was so tired I was just putting it on net. It might have hit Peltier's stick.
INCH: After Blake Wheeler's theatrical goal to beat your team in overtime a week earlier, you didn't want to try to one-up him?
Porter: No, I thought I'd just keep it old school. I took a page out of Erik Fabian's book and tried the wraparound. He's been pretty successful with it.
INCH: There are a lot of rumors that when the season's over, Toews is going to be in a Chicago Blackhawks sweater. Since you're also a Chicago draftee, have you guys talked about sharing a condo on Lake Michigan at some point?
Porter: We haven't talked about that yet. I kind of joke with him about being the first-rounder and the signing money he's going to get, but he's a great player. To be able to play with him at the next level would be a great honor. If we do end up on the same team again, it would be a great accomplishment for both of us.
INCH: The Blackhawks have a lot of holes to fill, so they might need both of you soon.
Porter: They're struggling this year, but they're in a rebuilding program. They'll be a tough team in a few years.
INCH: What have you learned from the two previous trips to the Frozen Four that you hope to take with you to St. Louis?
Porter: I've been in a final and lost in the first game last year. Being there gives us a lot of experience. What I can learn from it is that last year we were a little bit flat. I think we were a little bit satisfied just getting there and came out flat against BC and they hammered us. This year we're definitely not satisfied with just getting there -- we want to go in and win it. Having been there, I know what it's like. I've been there three times now. Hopefully this year we'll have a little better luck and come out with the right attitude.
INCH: If you look at North Dakota's playoff history since 2000, was it almost inevitable that you were going to be facing Boston College again at some point?
Porter: That's the way it's gone. They're definitely the hottest team in the country right now. We've had great battles with them, and it should be a great battle again.
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