The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Sports Columns

November 27, 2012

Frederick: A little personality can go a long way

— In a postgame conversation with Denver coach George Gwozdecky a few weeks ago at the Verizon Wireless Center, the subject of goaltenders came up, and Gwozdecky said he was going to start Sinuhe Wallinheimo in the next game of the series against Minnesota State.

The coach quickly corrected himself and was almost perplexed by his mistake. He had the right nationality but the wrong player.

In fact, Finnish-born Juho Olkinuora would be the starter, not the player whom Gwozdecky coached nearly 20 years ago.

But Wallinheimo — who is now a member of Finland’s parliament, Gwozdecky said — was hardly forgettable. When it came to goaltending, he went beyond the usual quirks associated with people who play the position.

Wallinheimo’s Wikipedia entry describes him “becoming a league-wide fan favorite” at Denver “for his unusual fan interactions during stoppages of play.”

I recall a game at Mariucci Arena in the mid-1990s when Wallinheimo made an impressive glove save and, after the whistle, turned around and showed the puck to the Minnesota student section, which had had been taunting him relentlessly throughout the game.

I was reminded of Wallinheimo again over the weekend as I watched Minnesota State rookie Stephon Williams win a pair of games at Wisconsin.

It’s still very early in Williams’ college career, of course, and those were just his first two wins as a Maverick. But the Fairbanks, Alaska, native played with personality that was, at best, free-spirited and, at worst, perhaps a bit cocky.

Williams came to Minnesota State with some viral fame after making a bare-handed save last season while playing for the Waterloo Blackhawks of the United States Hockey League.

In his limited action early this season, you could see him lift his mask and stroll back and forth along the goal line full of caffinated energy during stoppages.

Some mocking by the students at St. Cloud State last month didn’t seem to bother him too much.

But against the Badgers, he ramped it up, his confidence growing with every sliding, diving, sprawled-out save he made in the series sweep.

Since the Mavericks were on the road, Williams again didn’t get much love.

The Wisconsin student section may have been a fraction full, but amid their usual chants, the fans booed the goalie when he flung the puck down the rink following a brilliant glove save in the third period Saturday.

And they sure didn’t appreciate him staying on the ice for a minute or so after getting interferred with behind the net, only to dance his way back to the net as the Badgers penalty was being announced. (I can only imagine what how the jeering would have sounded had the arena been packed.)

Mavericks coach Mike Hastings didn’t seem too crazy about Williams’ antics, but he’ll sure take the peformance between the pipes (65 saves on 69 shots, a .942 save percentage).

“Let’s just put it this way: He’s young,” Hastings said.

People remember Wallinheimo because of his personality but also because he was pretty good. And that’s why he played.

Wallinheimo won 40 games in three seasons at Denver and was a second-team All-WCHA in 1995.

I think Minnesota State would take that.

Shane Frederick is a Free Press staff writer. Read his blog at, and follow him on Twitter @puckato.

Text Only | Photo Reprints
Sports Columns
  • Thoma column: Twins are scoring lot of runs; can this continue? The Minnesota Twins entered Sunday's play with the American League's second-highest number of runs scored. And, they haven't had the advantage of hitting off their own pitching staff. OK, it's dreadfully early in the season, far too early to draw co

    April 14, 2014

  • Courrier: Masters is first sign that winter has been conquered Don't know if anybody noticed but it's been a tough winter, with brutal cold and piles of snow that are now just disappearing. If not for an exciting season of local basketball and hockey, it would have an unbearable four months. Minnesota State had

    April 10, 2014

  • Thoma column: We all know the Ryan Braun saga: Winner of the National League MVP award, flunked a drug test, convinced the arbitrator to toss his suspension on the basis that his sample was mishandled, was snagged anyway in the Biogenesis investigation, suspended

    April 7, 2014

  • Focus will be on Mavericks' QBs this spring The Minnesota State football team began its spring practice period this week, 14 workouts in 27 days, trying to see who has been working hard to maintain a starting position and which backups might be ready to get more playing time in the fall. The b

    April 4, 2014

  • Thoma column: For the remade Twins, 2014 looks like more losing The start of the baseball season is supposed to be about fresh beginnings, wide open promises and the hope that springs eternal in the human breast. I'm here to quash that kind of optimism among the followers of the Minnesota Twins. (I strive to be a

    April 1, 2014

  • Shot clock isn't answer for high-school basketball A few weeks back, the state's basketball fans were all riled up that during a state-tournament game, the Hopkins boys spent much of the four overtimes holding the basketball, preferring not to shoot until the final seconds of each extra period in the

    March 28, 2014

  • Thoma column: Projected lineup is Mauer, Arcia and a bunch of outs The Minnesota Twins begin play in earnest in less than a week -- weather permitting -- and wow, do they have lineup issues. They scored 614 runs last season, 13th in the 15-team American League and almost 100 under the league average (702). Justin Mo

    March 26, 2014

  • Thoma column: Perkins extension may not be such a relief over time In the abstract, long-term contracts for relief pitchers are bad bets for teams. Nobody seems to be too concerned about that rule of thumb when it comes to Glen Perkins' new deal with the Twins. The contract, worth more than $21 million in guaranteed

    March 17, 2014

  • Courrier: No. 1 seed has brought no guarantees for MSU Since the Minnesota State men's basketball team started this nearly annual tradition of playing in the NCAA II tournament, the home team has almost been unbeatable in the regional. The Mavericks have played in nine of the last 10 national tournaments

    March 14, 2014

  • Thoma column: The many purposes of spring training

    March 9, 2014

Free Press news updates
Seasonal Content
Featured Ads
AP Video