Usually by this point in Minnesota’s men’s hockey season, many players’ hair has grown to traditional hockey length. Notable examples are Matt Koalska and Barry Tallackson. Gino Guyer and Andy Sertich also sport tufts behind their helmets.
However, freshman Danny Irmen’s hair is just now starting to hang onto his ears again.
The forward has a superstition of cutting his hair to break a slump. And when the Gophers started the season 1-7-1, the curly locks bouncing off his shoulders were the first thing to go.
That weekend, Minnesota swept Michigan Tech, and since then, the team’s and Irmen’s games have steadily improved.
“Hopefully, now I can let it grow the rest of the season,” Irmen said.
For the next few weeks, the Gophers play without senior captain Grant Potulny, who is nursing a shoulder injury. In his absence, coach Don Lucia hopes Irmen can play a big part in offensive compensation.
Irmen’s style of play – with his strong presence near the net – has already drawn comparisons to Potulny, who leads the Gophers with seven power-play goals. Now, Irmen will fill his spot on the ice during the man advantage.
“One thing Danny brings is good energy, and he’s got good hands around the net,” Lucia said. “As the year has gone on, his role has increased.”
This season, Irmen has tallied six goals and four assists for Minnesota.
Perhaps his most important score came on Saturday against North Dakota, when the freshman tied the game at 1-1 in the second period. The Gophers went on to win 2-1 in one of their most exciting games of the season.
“I felt like I was playing good earlier in the season, but the points weren’t coming,” Irmen said. “Now I’m starting to get some breaks. Saturday night was a perfect example.”
Lucia attributes much of Irmen’s recent success to his return to right wing, his natural position. Irmen has also played games at center and left wing this season.
Irmen’s first-year experience has been a bit different than that of last year’s freshmen. All four current sophomore forwards were thrust into big roles in their rookie seasons.
This year, after friend and classmate Ryan Potulny went down with a knee injury, Irmen became the lone freshman forward on the team.
“When the freshmen came in this year, there weren’t those open spots up front and in the power play; those guys were all returning,” Lucia said. “So he’s had to pay his dues a little bit this year and not be put in those situations like last year’s freshmen were.”
Irmen and Ryan Potulny were teammates for two years on the Lincoln Stars of the United States Hockey League. Together they led the team to a Clark Cup championship. Before that, the pair teamed up at Red River High School in Grand Forks, N.D.
Barring a late-season return by Ryan Potulny, the two will not be reunited on the ice until next year, with a year of eligibility between them.
“It’s tough for me to have to sit and watch everyone else play,” Potulny said. “But to see Danny have success makes it easier.”
For now, Irmen plans to continue paying his dues, working hard and growing out his hair.