By Nate Tenopir, Sports Editor
A season ago, Johnnie Searfoss had the luxury of playing alongside veteran players such as Rich Purslow, Joey Martin, Matt Ambroz and Alex Hudson. In his first year in the program, Searfoss showed a scoring touch.
The forward from Colleyville, Texas put in nine goals and four assists, adding points at some of the biggest moments. Searfoss scored a goal in the 8-4 win at North Dakota, had three scores in the weekend series against no. 7 Wisconsin and added another in a 5-2 victory over no. 6 Denver.
With success came responsibility. Now the tables have turned. From the beginning of the season Searfoss has routinely been put on lines where he is the veteran presence.
At the beginning of the season he was most often paired with freshmen Jayson Megna and Josh Archibald. Megna and Archibald have since moved up to the “red line” and become the most dynamic duo behind Matt White and Terry Broadhurst.
Searfoss remains on the “green line” as the only constant among a trio of change. His centerman, Brent Gwidt, isn’t really a centerman.
The other winger changes often, sometimes from game-to-game. Searfoss has played besides Alex Simonson, Brock Montpetit and most recently Andrew Schmit.
While former linemates have found success and moved up, and current ones are working towards finding consistency, Searfoss has had to find other ways than scoring to make a difference.
“When I was younger my coach always told me you can’t always be fancy, you can’t always score goals every shift,” Searfoss said. “You can definitely work as hard as you can, hit guys and get in the game that way. I think if you did that every shift, you can help the team.”
Lately that’s how Searfoss has been helping his team. His goal-scoring mark has yet to approach his numbers from last season.
Through 25 games in 2012 he has three less goals than at the same point a season ago. But with all the change in lineups, Searfoss has doubled his assist mark for all of last season.
He’s also three points ahead of where he was last January. Thus, though the puck isn’t going in the net as much, Searfoss has endured and found a way to make his mark.
“I coached him in Fargo and I know that, coaching him, there’s not one time that he wasn’t working hard in practice,” said Head Coach Dean Blais. “He was my type of player. [He was] up and down the wing, hard-nosed. He’s a good two way player, he’s an honest hockey player. He doesn’t cheat any time at any drill. He’s the kind of guy that makes the other guys on the team honest and a good example to follow. He’s a good student in the classroom, never misses class, 3.4 student. So everything that college hockey is about, is what Johnnie Searfoss is.”
Though Searfoss has found new ways to contribute, that doesn’t make scoring less goals any less frustrating. Asked about the difference from one year to another, Searfoss doesn’t make any excuses.
Lineup changes or not, Searfoss has things he likes to do no matter who he’s playing with.
“There’s a little bit of adjusting but we practice with each other every single day, and we’re not always with the same guys throughout different drills so we know tendencies and stuff like that,” Searfoss said.
“With a new guy I might have to pass more or maybe the guys pass to me more. It’s all about chemistry and who you’re playing with…but I’d definitely like to have more goals.”
Regardless of what kind of streak guys are on, Blais prefers not to change it up too much. Although there might be some temptation to focus more on a guy who hasn’t scored in a while, Blais said that can hurt more than it helps.
In the first half, of the season Blais said that Searfoss might have been passing when he should have been shooting and vice versa. So far in the second half, Blais thinks Searfoss has been playing better but hasn’t yet been rewarded for it.
“He’s gotta figure that part of the game out himself,” Blais said. “As a coach you don’t want to take their creativity and imagination away to make plays. It’s a decision I let our forwards make.”
Searfoss understands and appreciates that freedom. Though the goals aren’t coming, he’s taking what he learned in youth hockey and using his hustle to get him into the game.
“He (Coach Blais) doesn’t really tell the guys what to do; we kind of know what to expect from ourselves,” Searfoss said. “For me, I like to hustle as hard as I can, throw some hits, throw some bodies, get pucks to the net.”
As UNO closes in on the final 10 games of the season, Blais says that guys like Searfoss are the ones that have to start to make more of a difference. With conference standings and an NCAA tournament bid on the line, this is the part of the year when the best teams start to distinguish themselves.
“We need guys that haven’t maybe put the puck in the net like last year and have had opportunities or even haven’t had opportunities…they have to get opportunities now to score,” Blais said.
Down the stretch there is still much to play for. Though a weekend off dropped UNO into sixth place in the WCHA, the Mavs are only four points out of second place, two out of third and one out of fourth.
Six of the final 10 games are against opponents that are currently ahead in the standings. According to Searfoss all of the goals that the team set out before the season are still within reach.
But before looking too far ahead, Bemidji State stands in the way. Though UNO got some revenge in November, the Mavs haven’t forgotten how the Badgers denied UNO a trip to the Final Five last season.
“That feeling still burns for sure,” Searfoss said. “We wanna be there (The Final Five); we talked about it at the beginning of the year.”
“We don’t like talking about it too much during the season, we like to focus on every weekend. But if we take care of the next few weekends and the games that we have, we can definitely get there.”