Irmen’s game is more than just glitz

by Ben Goessling

There’s no question Danny Irmen earned his first real share of national attention over the weekend against Wisconsin, but the way he did it might be a little misleading.

Irmen’s penalty-shot goal against Badgers goaltender Bernd Bruckler on Friday night was replayed on “SportsCenter” and became the driving force behind Minnesota men’s hockey sophomore forward earning WCHA offensive player of the week honors.

But the goal – a moment of singular brilliance capped with a daring backhanded flip past Wisconsin’s All-American goalie – probably doesn’t say as much about Irmen as the fact he shook off a nasty collision with the Mariucci Arena boards and a leg contusion to beat Bruckler.

The Fargo, N.D., native knows how to light the lamp, but he’s more guile and sass than skills and flash.

“He works so hard. I’d love to have eight wingers just like him,” Gophers coach Don Lucia said. “He’s got great hands, and he has a presence around the net. Those other two goals were goal-scorer’s goals.”

Linemate Ryan Potulny has called Irmen the biggest trash-talker on the team, and he wasn’t afraid to display a little attitude while coming to the aid of Tyler Hirsch during a mix-up with Wisconsin’s Jeff Likens and Kyle Klubertanz on Saturday.

And Irmen’s true game came out on his second and third tally of the weekend, knocking home a rebound and drilling a one-timer in the slot while getting hit.

Neither was exceptionally pretty, but both showcased his developing sense of timing and instinct near the goal.

And while hulking freshman Kris Chucko is the most likely candidate to fill Grant Potulny’s role as the Gophers’ garbage-goal leader, Irmen is starting to wear the same hat.

“Coming into this season, I was prepared to be one of the go-to guys,” Irmen said. “But once you get that label, you have to be ready to produce every night, and I am.”

Irmen came to Minneapolis in a one-two coup with Ryan Potulny, his teammate for one season at Red River High School and two seasons with the Lincoln Stars of the United States Hockey League.

Both players fought for small scraps of playing time on a veteran team last year, but after a mass exodus that saw the Gophers lose more than half of their offensive output, Irmen and Ryan Potulny have become the team’s top combination.

“I’ve probably played more hockey with him than anyone else, even my brother,” Ryan Potulny said. “When we’re out there, we don’t have to think so much. We can just react.”

So far, the combination has been the major constant for a Gophers team searching for new sources of offense. Ryan Potulny and Irmen are tied for the team lead with 13 points, and both have scored in every game this season.

And seven of their combined 13 assists have come setting each other up.

“We’re not quite to the point where we’re finishing each other’s sentences yet,” Irmen said. “But we have great chemistry, and I’m very fortunate to play with Ryan.”

For Irmen, who said it was “pretty cool to hear Linda Cohn say (his) name” on “SportsCenter,” his identity probably won’t be found in too many more goals like Friday night’s score.

But as the sophomore left Mariucci Arena last weekend with a pronounced limp – the wound that earned him a date on national television – it became evident that maybe Irmen is just as comfortable away from the fast lane.