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St. Scholastica's Gordon at home on the ice

Ben Gordon's plan for life after hockey consisted of ... more hockey. And there never really was a Plan B. The ex-International Falls star and 2003 News Tribune All-Area Player of the Year recently concluded a nomadic six-year professional career...

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St. Scholastica first-year assistant men’s hockey coach Ben Gordon watches the Saints go through a drill at Mars Lakeview Arena on Wednesday. Gordon has led the team since head coach Mark Wick took a leave of absence. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)

Ben Gordon’s plan for life after hockey consisted of … more hockey. And there never really was a Plan B.
The ex-International Falls star and 2003 News Tribune All-Area Player of the Year recently concluded a nomadic six-year professional career, which included stops in the American Hockey League, East Coast Hockey League, Central Hockey League and German Elite Division. As his playing days wound down, Gordon turned his attention to coaching.
“It would have been impossible for me to stay away from the game,” he said. “Pretty much the only career choice I could have chosen.”
Gordon is a college head coach faster than he ever could have imagined - but not under the circumstances he would have preferred. St. Scholastica men’s coach Mark Wick, citing medical reasons, took a leave of absence from the team in early February. First-year assistant Gordon was promoted to interim head coach, and the Saints are 1-3 since. They made a winner of Gordon in his debut by toppling seventh-ranked St. Norbert 3-1 on Feb. 6.
Wick is the winningest coach in program history with 145 victories. He remains on leave as sixth-seeded St. Scholastica (11-11-3) prepares for its NCHA playoff opener this weekend at No. 3 seed Lake Forest College in Lake Forest, Ill.
Regardless of how far the Saints advance, Wick isn’t expected back on the Saints’ bench this winter.
“Our main concern is with Coach Wick and his family,” Gordon said Wednesday at Mars Lakeview Arena. “This isn’t the way I wanted to come in and be a head coach, but it’s also a good way for me to get a small taste of it, see what it’s like and see if I can handle it.”
According to his players, some of whom aren’t much younger than the 30-year-old Gordon, the former Bronco and Minnesota Gopher is handling it just fine.
The Saints knew all about Gordon before he arrived on campus.
“He’s got a pretty good hockey resume, so we all respect him greatly,” said junior forward Dylan Nowakowski, the team’s scoring leader with 11 goals and 17 assists.
Goalie Tyler Bruggeman said the abrupt transition from Wick to Gordon has been seamless, despite the fact that the latter “kind of got thrown into the fire.”
“It’s kind of refreshing almost,” the junior netminder said. “When he came in as an assistant coach, he blended really well with all of us.”
Gordon, the son of a coach who played for his father, Kevin Gordon, at International Falls, looked like a whistle-wearing natural while directing practice from the red line Wednesday. His Saints head south for a Saturday-Sunday series against No. 15 Lake Forest (14-6-5) trying to salvage a season that began with so much promise.
St. Scholastica started the season 6-1 and was ranked as high as eighth in the United States College Hockey Online.com Division III poll. After dropping four of five games in December, the Saints have all but traded wins and losses since, unable to get untracked. Wick’s decision to step away late in the season presented another hurdle.
“Every team goes through adversity and I think we’ve gone through it a couple times this year, so hopefully we’ve gotten it all out of the way,” Nowakowski said.
Lake Forest swept a regular-season series from St. Scholastica by scores of 1-0 and 3-1. Bruggeman said the Saints have proven they can hang with anybody.
“We’ve shown this year that we can compete with the top teams in the country - the Adrians, the (St.) Norberts - so we just need to stick to the basics and keep things simple,” the goalie said, referencing a mid-January tie with Adrian.
Gordon and his players said communication with Wick has been sparse. They are giving the coach his space, and Wick is doing the same.
Thus, for at least one more weekend, Gordon is a head coach leading the Saints into the postseason. He admitted Wednesday he’s in it for the long haul, resigned and content to be a hockey lifer.
“I had pretty much hashed it out my whole life that it’s something I wanted to do,” Gordon said. “Once I started winding down playing, I talked with my wife and said there’s no way I’ll ever be able to be fully removed from the game.”

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