Urged to shoot more after scoring only six goals last season, sophomore Erik Haula already has lit the lamp five times this year.
Updated: October 21, 2011 - 4:30 PM
Tomi Haula of Pori, Finland, bought a Slingbox before the college hockey season began to watch his son's games more easily.
So far Tomi has to like what he has seen. Erik Haula has five goals and four assists for the unbeaten Gophers (4-0).
The second-line sophomore center is tied for second nationally in goals and points going into the Gophers' nonconference series with Vermont at Mariucci Arena on Friday and Sunday.
"Coach [Don] Lucia told me to start shooting more and using my shot," Haula said. "I feel more loose on the ice. I am more confident in making plays."
Haula leads the team in shots with 20, five more than center Nick Bjugstad.
Last season Haula tied for third on the team in points with 24 but had only six goals.
"I passed up some goals by passing," he said. "Last year I was coming in as a freshman and playing with two seniors. It was kind of like, let's get the puck to [Jay] Barriball ... and [Mike] Hoeffel."
Barriball led the Gophers with 13 goals, Hoeffel had 12. Haula was actually second on the team in shots with 112, but Hoeffel (103) and Barriball (100) had nearly as many.
"[Erik] has always been a pass-first type of centerman, but he has a good shot," Lucia said. "He can get it off quick. And he has had some nice goals so far."
His biggest goal -- if not prettiest -- came last Friday in the final minute of the third period against Minnesota Duluth. UMD took a 4-3 lead with two minutes left before Haula scored with 44 seconds. The Gophers eventually won 5-4 in overtime.
"[The Bulldogs] were throwing high-fives on the bench already with 40 seconds left and then, to shove it back, it was great," Haula said. "Actually, I was trying to pass it to Kyle Rau back door, but [the puck] hit off a skate."
That's Haula, passing the puck again.
"I can't remember the last time I had more goals than assists," Haula said.
But the 5-10, 184-pound Finn insists he can do both well: "In the USHL, I almost had 30 goals."
Haula played for the Omaha Lancers in 2009-10 and had 28 goals and 44 assists; his 72 points tied him for fifth in league scoring. The season before that at Shattuck-St. Mary's in Faribault, Haula scored 26 goals in 53 games.
Even last season as a Gopher, Haula scored four goals for Finland in the World Junior Championships.
But after that seven-game grind, Haula struggled when he rejoined the Gophers in early January. "I went 10 games with one point, which is not the way it should be," he said. "It was a tough time. I just hope it doesn't happen this year."
Lucia said Haula is a more mature, confident player than he was. "He is having the kind of year, quite honestly, like I expected," Lucia said.
Haula spent the summer at home in Finland. "It was really good. I got to hang out with my friends and family," said Haula, who has three siblings. "And my parents were super happy I was there for that long."
He also followed a training program from the hockey team's strength coach. "I shot some pucks, too, in my free time," he said, "That has helped my shot as well."
The Wild will be glad to hear that. The team picked Haula in the seventh round of the 2009 NHL draft. He attended two of their summer development camps but missed this year's camp because college players have to pay all the expenses. "Coming from Finland, the plane ticket isn't cheap," he said.
Now that Haula is back in Minnesota, he is not only shooting more but urging his linemates, senior Jake Hansen (2-6-8) and freshman Sam Warning (2-2-4), to do the same while they encourage him.
"Everyone should shoot," Haula said. "Never pass a good shot up."
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