Finley happy he stayed
GRAND FORKS -- Joe Finley spent half of the season with nothing to do and all the time in the world to think. Unable to even exercise because of post-concussive syndrome, the result of a hit during the first game of the season, the question surel...
GRAND FORKS -- Joe Finley spent half of the season with nothing to do and all the time in the world to think.
Unable to even exercise because of post-concussive syndrome, the result of a hit during the first game of the season, the question surely entered his mind.
Should he have signed an NHL contract instead of returning to the University of North Dakota for his senior year?
As Finley and his teammates prepared for the Western Collegiate Hockey Association Final Five this week, the hulking defenseman shared his conclusion to the burning question.
"I wouldn't trade this year for anything," said Finley, who helped UND win its first league title since 2004. "Having that MacNaughton Cup ceremony after the game (last Saturday), and that being my final game at Ralph Engelstad Arena, that was very special. I couldn't have a better final memory of playing (in REA). I wouldn't have that if I didn't come back.
"Right now, I've got to stay in the moment and worry about winning and continuing preparing for games in a way that allows myself and the team to be successful. But hopefully in a few months or a few years down the road, I'll be able to step back and enjoy all of those memories, because a lot of guys don't have those opportunities."
Finley, a first-round draft pick of the Washington Capitals, said that missing two months with post-concussive syndrome was difficult, but he never thought he made the wrong decision by coming back.
"That's life," he said. "You can't sit there and say, 'I coulda, shoulda or woulda,' or whatever. I've never really been much to talk like that or think like that. I just stayed the course and did what I could do to get back on the ice to help this team.
"It's interesting to look back on. It gives you a different outlook. It gave me an opportunity to be a leader off the ice. Looking at the game from that side was something interesting, and I think that will help me as a player as I continue my career."
Finley also played a large role on the ice in helping the Sioux win the league.
UND went 6-5-1 in WCHA play during Finley's absence and 11-2-3 since his return. Besides the 10 points in 24 games this season, the 6-foot-7 Finley has been a presence on the blue line and played key minutes both 5-on-5 and on the penalty kill.
That's pretty much been Finley's role since he stepped on to campus in 2005 as a youngster who should have been in his senior year in high school. A couple of his classmates -- Ryan Duncan and Brad Miller -- have adapted to new roles as seniors, though.
Duncan was moved to center midway through the season and Miller was moved to defense for the first time in his career -- at any level.
"Each guy is doing whatever it takes to help the team," Finley said. "With only a few games left, I'm pretty sure that I'll be staying back at defense. But you never know, right? Maybe, I'll be lining up at center or something.
"No, the 20 guys in the lineup are willing to do whatever is asked of them every night. The selflessness of this team is something I haven't experienced at any other level."
Final Five to determine seeding
With their second-half surge, the Sioux have put themselves in strong position in the PairWise Rankings, which mimic the process that the NCAA uses to pick its 16-team field.
This weekend, however, will determine what seed UND will carry into the national tournament (the bracket will be announced Sunday).
The Sioux would be a No. 2 seed if the season ended today, but they could potentially reach a No. 1 seed or fall to a No. 3 seed based on results in the Xcel Energy Center.
That's not all that coach Dave Hakstol is concerned with, though.
"The bottom line is that this is our league championship tournament," Hakstol said. "If your blood isn't boiling, I don't care who you are playing, there's something wrong. There's a hell of a lot of pride on the line. And at this time of year, you want to win, you want to play well and you want to carry momentum into the (NCAA) tournament."