Banner evening awaits men’s hockey team Friday

by Adam Fink

At approximately 6:58 p.m. Friday, the 23-year drought for a fresh championship banner to hang over Minnesota’s men’s hockey team will come to a screeching halt before a raucous crowd and fired-up players.

Before the fourth-ranked Gophers (2-1-2, 1-0-1 WCHA) face Alabama-Huntsville, Minnesota will unveil the 2001-02 championship banner honoring last season’s NCAA title in an emotional pre-game event.

“It’s pretty exciting,” said junior Matt Koalska, a St. Paul native who used to watch Gophers hockey every weekend night as a youngster. “We can come back (in the future), see the banner and remember all the fun times we had. It’s very special to be a part of it.”

Prior to the banner unveiling, a short video tribute will play before captain Grant Potulny will pull the cord to reveal Mariucci Arena’s newest award.

If you are trying to find the injured forward, don’t look to center ice.

With more than a two-decade wait for a championship, arena workers decided to make the most of the opportunity to relocate the title banners.

Each title year will now hang in between the fan sections. The 2002 banner will be displayed in between Sections 1 and 2.

In addition, the first 2,500 fans will receive a commemorative ring.

“They have supported us,” coach Don Lucia said. “This night is as much for them as it is for us.”

By the way, the Gophers players won’t just enjoy the atmosphere. They have a game to play.

On paper, the Chargers appear overmatched. However, Lucia said their 0-4 record is misleading. So is the fact they’ve been outscored by opponents 21-6.

“I respect them more than most people,” said Lucia, who coached against Alabama-Huntsville while at Alaska-Anchorage. “They play hard, and if we don’t come out and play harder, we will lose. We need to have the proper respect for them.”

While honoring the past, Minnesota must remember the present and play like the defending national champions. And maybe then the Gophers can unveil a new banner before 2025.

Goaltender situation

sophomore goaltenders Travis Weber and Justin Johnson will, once again, each start one game of the series this weekend.

Lucia said he wasn’t sure which goalie would start Friday. Weber has started three games this season, and Johnson has started between the pipes for two games.

Neither goalie has separated himself, but Weber’s performance last Friday at Michigan Tech was less than stellar.

The Hibbing, Minn., native was pulled after allowing four goals on only seven shots.

“Travis and I have talked,” Lucia said. “He is stronger at home than he is on the road. It is too early to judge anyone.

“Both of them just need to get more comfortable.”

Early practice

due to some players on the team not completing enough study hours last week, the Gopher practiced at 6 a.m. Wednesday as punishment.

“Academics are very important to us, and they need to get those taken care of,” Lucia said. “We were on the road (last weekend), which made it harder, but it is still their responsibility.”

Normal practice time is at 2:30 p.m.

Adam Fink covers men’s hockey and welcomes comments at [email protected]