By Nate Tenopir, Senior Staff Writer
Leadership was a priority for the Mavs coming into the 2010 hockey season. There was the move to a new conference, the addition of 10 freshmen to the lineup and a five-year gap since the team last played in the NCAA tournament.
Fast – forward five months and the Mavs are heading into the final weekend of WCHA play in third place – one point out of second – and stand as a strong contender for a NCAA tournament berth. A solid group of seniors have turned questions into answers, concerns into expectations.
Where there was once an unknown quantity, there is now a team and a program ready to place itself among the perennial contenders. Senior forward Rich Purslow sees it as a natural progression that he and his teammates are expected to make.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a shock to us that we’d be in this position,” he said. “We’re happy where we’re at right now. We worked hard all year, so we feel like we deserve it and we’re a good enough team to be here.”
Purslow, a senior forward out of Green Lawn, N.Y., has played a big role in helping the program begin the transition into perennial contender. While fellow seniors Joey Martin, Matt Ambroz and Eric Olimb may be names better known to Maverick fans, it’s important to understand just how much of an effect Purslow has when he’s on the ice.
In last Friday’s first period against Denver, the senior was part of a familiar combination that came together to score the Mavs’ fourth short-handed goal of the year. With goaltender John Faulkner facing an onslaught of shots from the Pioneers’ power play, team captain Joey Martin took a puck off the sophomore goaltender and led an attack the other way.
Martin raced up ice, drew the defenders in and connected with Purslow on a one-timer to give UNO a 1-0 lead. Purslow would add his second of the night on an empty-netter late in the third to secure a 5-2 Maverick victory.
Add in the goal from Andrej Sustr that gave the Mavs a 3-2 lead earlier in the third, and Martin and Purslow were on the ice for three of UNO’s five goals. Those three scores are somewhat of a microcosm of Purslow’s impact.
When accounting for all the skaters on the ice after a Maverick goal, it’s common to see Purslow and Martin out on the ice together.
“Playing with him as much as I have, we just have that chemistry,” Purslow said. “He knows where I’m gonna be, I know where he’s gonna be. We penalty kill a lot together so that gives us a lot of chemistry. I don’t know, it’s just working out.”
At 11 goals and 18 assists for the season, Purslow trails only fellow seniors Joey Martin and Matt Ambroz for the team lead in points. Of the 116 goals that the Mavs have scored on the year, Purslow and Martin have been on the ice for 52 of them.
Simply put, when the Mavs have offensive success, it’s often due to the efforts of Purslow.
“I feel like four years of college hockey really develops your body and your mind,” he said. “It’s just a real tough league. If you don’t develop you’re not gonna be successful. I just feel like my overall game has gotten better each year.”
At five feet ten inches and 169 pounds, Purslow isn’t exactly what comes to mind when you think of a typical hockey player. Yet from early on no one could deny him a spot on the ice and a place in the game.
Starting at age four, Purslow spent his mornings at the ice rink with his brother, sometimes starting as early as 6 a.m. He began competitive hockey at the same time. Like many players at this level, Purslow had to make a serious commitment to the game he loves so much.
“It’s one of those sports where if you don’t dedicate 100 percent of your time and focus to it, then it’s hard to go anywhere,” Purslow said. “It’s so competitive and everybody is so good, you definitely have to give it your all.”
For almost 20 years, Purslow has been giving it his all in the rinks around New York, the USHL and finally with the Mavs at Qwest Center Omaha. However, rather than look back on what once was, Purslow is more interested in the unfinished business that lies ahead.
“Our main focus is to win a championship, so that’s really what I’m focused on. Really, honestly I only try to look ahead because the season is so grueling and there’s so many good teams. You gotta really stay focused if you wanna be the best and win every night, so I try not to look back.”
While he may not be the flashiest or most noticeable player, there is a clear connection between Purslow’s play and the Mavs’ success on the ice. Like his fellow seniors, he would rather be remembered for his work ethic and commitment than any single personal achievement.
“Just that I gave it everything I had every night,” Purslow said. “That I was an all-around player and just did whatever it took for the team to win. That’s how I want to be remembered.”
However, he and his fellow seniors won’t be satisfied without leaving at least one more mark on the program before they go.
“Our senior class has not gotten to the NCAA tournament, so obviously it would be a huge goal for us to get there,” Purslow said. “Everything I’ve heard about it is that it’s a great experience and it would be great for the program. We’re gonna do whatever we can to get there.”