Stecher continues road to improvement

UND sophomore defenseman takes strides after eight weeks out of lineup, prepares to face Denver


Troy Stecher skates at Ralph Engelstad Arena in November before an injury on Dec. 6 took him out of the lineup until late January. Photo by Nicholas Nelson/The Dakota Student.

It was Troy Stecher’s first series out. He didn’t travel with the team.

Instead of skating at Magness Arena when the UND men’s hockey team last played and split against Denver in mid-December, Stecher was watching the game on TV.

Just a week prior, the sophomore defenseman crashed hard into the boards behind the net during the Dec. 6 Lake Superior State game at home, and was only able to crawl halfway back to the bench.

But this weekend, he’ll get his chance to battle the Pioneers.

Stecher’s lower body injury kept him from the lineup for eight long weeks until he was able to join his teammates on the ice a few weeks ago in Omaha.

“I feel good,” Stecher said. “Happy to be back. Obviously, it was nice to get in the lineup against Omaha — getting back into the game routine, getting into shape and finding chemistry again with Gage (Ausmus). I think before my injury, we were playing pretty well together. We were playing big roles. Looking forward to trying to get back to that level.”

Stecher shook off the rust, tallying seven shots on goal against the Mavericks, and worked his way back into finding a rhythm.

As UND’s only freshman last year to appear in all 42 games, Stecher ranked sixth among rookie defensemen in scoring and spent the first half of his sophomore campaign notching one goal and seven assists.

He may not yet be back to the caliber he knows he can play at — he might not be back at it this weekend. But Stecher’s work ethic has proven the difference in his ability to reach that level.

“He had a couple pretty good games coming back,” UND coach Dave Hakstol said. “I think he went through the usual ups and downs of coming back into the lineup after you’ve been out for eight weeks. But overall, he had a pretty good weekend, and that series was obviously as competitive as we’ve had, and it was a good sign for him. He’s still got a ways to go. You don’t get it all back one weekend — you don’t get it all back in one or two weeks. He’s got to just keep working toward getting back to his level.”

North Dakota was in a good spot when Stecher went down, having compiled a 13-3-2 record and ranking itself as the No. 1 team in the country.

That made it even more difficult for Stecher, knowing he couldn’t be on the ice building up and assisting his teammates.

Yet he was still able to keep a positive mindset.

“I think it was kind of easy in ways, and obviously difficult in other ways,” Stecher said. “I had good support from the coaching staff and the players. Obviously they were really supportive. They always had an upbeat tempo with me and gave me some good vibes.

“But at the same time, it was frustrating that I couldn’t be out there helping. It wasn’t an injury where you could work on it. It was just a matter of time. It was kind of frustrating not being able to do anything.”

This weekend, he will. The long wait is over, and Stecher will use the Denver series as a stepping stone toward improvement.

Attending to his physical abilities may take time, but Stecher’s mentality remains tough.

The sophomore has always carried a strong personality and made the team a priority.

“Great personality — he’s a great teammate,” Hakstol said. “Very direct, very straightforward. What you see is what you get at all different levels. He’s a competitive person that’s not afraid to say what’s on his mind. But everything that is on his mind has ‘team’ first, and that’s a pretty important trait to have. He’s becoming one of our quiet leaders.”

The depth of UND’s lineup and its equipped leaders are preparing to face the Pioneers in another anticipated rivalry series against a Denver team that boasts a top-scoring defenseman in Joey LaLeggia, and the top penaltykilling unit in the NCHC.

North Dakota’s split last weekend has it looking for four points.

With Stecher’s return, his teammates continue to feel confident heading into a highly competitive series.

“It’s been huge,” UND senior captain Stephane Pattyn said. “Troy’s a competitor. He brings it every shift, and he’s very reliable for us back there. He simplifies our game. I think that’s something that he adds to our success. Having him back from injury is definitely going to help us down the stretch here.”

Elizabeth Erickson is the sports editor of The Dakota Student. She can be reached at [email protected].