It’s been quite a ride for Chay Genoway.
After sitting out all but nine games last season due to a season-ending injury sustained against St. Cloud, Genoway was still named to the All-WCHA Third Team last spring, which made it a big boost for the Fighting Sioux when the Morden, Manitoba native opted to return for a second senior year on a medical hardship waiver.
It hasn’t all been pretty since – Genoway missed the entire month of February after sustaining a leg injury against Colorado College – but as his Fighting Sioux career comes to a close, Genoway is right back where he wants to be — in the 2011 NCAA Frozen Four at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn., set to take on Michigan on Thursday night in the second semifinal (8 p.m. ET, ESPN2).
“I have no regrets on coming back for this year,” Genoway said. “However the outcome is going to be, it’s been an unbelievable year up to this point, and we obviously have more hockey to play. I have no regrets about my decision. It’s been a great year. We have a great group of guys and a great coaching staff, and obviously, it’s been a fun year.”
Oddly enough, Genoway’s first NCAA tournament game was against the Wolverines: an 8-5 victory against Michigan in the semifinals of the NCAA West Regional in Denver in 2007 that saw the then-freshman assist on North Dakota’s first two goals. The Fighting Sioux captain could wind up playing his last NCAA tournament game against the Wolverines as well, although he certainly hopes it will the penultimate contest, bringing him full circle in a way as his time in Grand Forks draws to a close.
“That was half a decade ago,” Genoway said. “That’s a long time ago for me. I’m sure they have a somewhat similar style of play. They’re always a really skilled hockey team, a really good team every year. It seems like they’re always up there in the standings. It’s going to be exciting to play against them again. I think I’m the only guy in the locker room who’s had that chance.”
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Playing against the Wolverines is just one of the experiences that Genoway brings to the North Dakota locker room, where he’s the leader of a team that won the WCHA regular-season and tournament titles for the first time since the 1996-97 season.
“You start with great people in the locker room who have an understanding of where you want to get to, and a real firm grasp on what it takes to take steps each week towards that goal,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “That’s very significant, and that’s where everything starts with Chay: the kind of person that he is, and the type of leadership that that brings to our senior class, which is a very strong character class. It trickles on down to the rest of our team. Those are just some of my thoughts on having Chay return to our team this year.”
Then, of course, there’s his play on the blueline, where Genoway has six goals and 31 assists in 35 games, ranking third nationally among defensemen in points per game. In two games at the NCAA Midwest Regional on March 26 and 27, Genoway had five assists and was a plus-3 in the Fighting Sioux’s wins against Rensselaer and Denver, tying him for the tournament lead in points.
It didn’t come easily, however. Genoway started the season with a solid six points in his first 10 games, but caught fire in November, when he started a 12-game point streak that included a two-goal game against Nebraska-Omaha. In the WCHA Playoffs, Genoway had six assists in four games, which he followed up with five assists in the Midwest Regional in Green Bay.
“I think that at the beginning of the year, I was trying to find my rhythm with the game,” Genoway said. “I think that’s expected, being out for that long. Things were happening pretty quickly. But, as you play games and get settled into game speed, I think the game starts to slow down for you, and now we’re seven months into the year, and I think things have worked themselves out for me personally. The game’s working a little bit slower for me, and I’m just trying to play.”
For his part, though, Hakstol is focused on the qualities of character and leadership that Genoway brings, regardless of whether or not his game on the ice is clicking.
“I think his play speaks for itself,” Hakstol said. “Aside from that, it’s just great to be able to have good people that you have the opportunity to come to work with every day. Sometimes, that gets lost a little bit in the shuffle in all the expectations of winning and having success. It’s that daily interaction that you’ll remember years down the road.”
Still, what Genoway wants to be able to remember years down the road is an NCAA championship, the first at North Dakota since 2000, and the first for Hakstol since he took the reins of the program in 2004.
“Coach Hakstol’s here for all the right reasons,” Genoway said. “He cares more about this program than anyone else around. I think that’s pretty special. He truly does bleed green and white. He’s the hardest working guy at the rink. He’s here before anyone else, and he leaves later than anyone else. He puts in more time thinking about the game than anyone else at the rink.”
This weekend, Genoway and his teammates will get their chance to reward that hard work with an NCAA championship.