Irmen’s penalty shot vital to sweep

Ben Goessling

A two-year veteran of the United States Hockey League – where overtime ties are resolved by shootout – Danny Irmen is no stranger to penalty-shot situations.

But when the sophomore on Minnesota’s men’s hockey team was given a chance to face Wisconsin’s Bernd Bruckler on a penalty shot with 14:32 left in a 2-2 game at Mariucci Arena on Friday Ö well, let’s just say Irmen wasn’t drooling at the chance.

“I just told myself to relax,” said Irmen, who called himself “average” in shootouts. “I said, ‘It’s just me and the goalie on the ice. No one else is here.’ “

The Fargo, N.D., native didn’t flinch, stuffing a high backhand past Bruckler’s blocker and giving Minnesota a 3-2 lead it would hold onto.

Irmen’s goal, the first on a penalty shot in the 11-year history of Mariucci Arena, didn’t come without plenty of excitement.

The forward had raced out on a shorthanded breakaway after Gopher’s goalie Kellen Briggs’ pad save and appeared to be just over a half-step clear of Wisconsin’s Andrew Joudrey when the Wisconsin center’s attempt to knock the puck away grazed his skate.

Joudrey swept his stick across Irmen’s body, dislodging the puck and sending Irmen flying.

Irmen, who would soon make a figurative mark on Mariucci Arena, was trying not to make a rather literal one on the stadium’s boards.

When he got up after the collision – which left him with a leg contusion and a noticeable limp after the game – Gophers coach Don Lucia was given the option of taking a penalty or allowing Irmen to face Bruckler one-on-one.

“I thought about taking the penalty instead, because Wisconsin was on the power play,” Lucia said. “But I said, ‘The heck with it. This one’s for the fans.’ “

Badgers coach Mike Eaves was livid with referee Derek Shepherd for calling the penalty shot and didn’t back down from his disdain for the call after the game.

“I hope he’s able to look me in the eye and tell me what he saw,” Eaves said Friday. “His verbiage to me was (Irmen) was clearly in, and I didn’t see it that way. I hope he’s able to look at it and come to me as a man.”

While Eaves was fuming on the Badgers bench, nobody was talking to Irmen on the Gophers’ side.

“I don’t think anyone else wanted to make him more nervous than he was,” center Gino Guyer said. “The crowd was loud enough.”

Irmen decided to go with his backhand – which he said is one of his favorite moves on a penalty shot – when Bruckler came out of his net.

The forward buried it, setting off pandemonium for the 10,190 in Mariucci Arena.

And the wily shootout veteran stayed cool the whole time – er, most of the time, anyway.

“I was a little relieved when it went in,” he said. “I didn’t want to let down 11,000 people.”