17-year-old Gophers recruit drafted fifth-overall by Coyotes in NHL Draft

Wheeler became the highest Minnesota native selected in the NHL Draft.

Kent Erdahl

When Blake Wheeler, a 17-year-old Breck High School hockey standout, verbally committed to play for the Gophers in 2005-06, he never imagined shaking hands with Wayne Gretzky as the fifth pick in the National Hockey League draft – not to mention before his senior year even began.

With this in mind, it might seem obvious that Wheeler’s commitment to Minnesota is now in doubt.

But Wheeler, who became the highest-selected Minnesota native ever Saturday, said he would still prefer sporting an “M” on his sweater before a coyote.

“I’ve said all along that playing for the Gophers has been a life-long dream of mine,” Wheeler said. “Being drafted with a high pick doesn’t change that.”

The Phoenix Coyotes said they will sit down with Wheeler when he returns from a vacation sometime next week, but he remains encouraged by what he has heard.

“It sounds like they would like me to finish school and go to the U of M to keep on track with my plans,” Wheeler said.

When Wheeler is eventually offered a contract, he could join several former Gophers on the team, including Jeff Taffe, Erik Westrum and recently signed Keith Ballard.

The significance of playing for Minnesota and following the accomplished former Gophers was not lost on Wheeler.

“It’s really cool to look up to those guys and to see where they’ve come from,” Wheeler said. “Hopefully I’ll follow down the same path and play with them some day.”

Chucko, Goligoski go

Future Gophers Kris Chucko and Alex Goligoski, who signed national letters of intent in April, joined Wheeler as selections in the first two rounds of the NHL draft Saturday.

The Calgary Flames selected Chucko, a forward from Burnaby, British Columbia, with the 24th pick in the first round.

The Pittsburg Penguins drafted Goligoski, a defenseman from Grand Rapids, Minn., in the second round with the 61st pick.

Hahn is top male athlete

Minnesota wrestler Damion Hahn was named the 2004 Big Ten Jesse Owens Male Athlete of the Year on Tuesday.

Hahn, from Lakewood, N.J., captured his second straight NCAA Championship title at 197 pounds this season. He became the fourth four-time All-American in Minnesota history.

He is only the fourth Minnesota athlete honored. He joins Jordan Leopold (2002, Hockey), Gretchen Hegener (1997, Swimming) and John Roethlisberger (1993, Gymnastics) as the Gophers’ honorees.

Hahn posted the 11th-highest victory total in school history with 118.

Perkins signs with Twins

Former Gophers pitcher Glen Perkins signed a contract with the Twins on Monday, which includes a $1.425 million signing bonus.

After three weeks of negotiating, Perkins will now be assigned to the Twins’ rookie league team in Elizabethton, Tenn.

Swim team names coach

Bill Tramel is the newest addition to Minnesota’s men’s swimming and diving team. Gophers coach Dennis Dale named Tramel his top assistant, replacing Kelly Kremer who became co-head coach of the Gophers’ women’s swimming program.

Tramel spent nine years as an assistant swimming coach at the University of North Carolina. With the Tar Heels he coached 40 All-Americans and 35 NCAA individual qualifiers.

“With Bill’s nine years as a head assistant coach at UNC . . . Bill brings a great deal of knowledge working with middle distance, distance and individual-medley swimmers, and I think he will be an excellent addition,” Dale said.

North Carolina had nine top-20 finishes at the NCAA Championships and five top-15 finishes while Tramel was coaching.