U nabs Midwest No. 1 seed

Minnesota’s men’s hockey team will face Notre Dame in the NCAA opening round.

by Lou Raguse

Minnesota-Duluth’s men’s hockey team might have defeated Minnesota four times during the regular season, but the Gophers’ 7-4 win in the semifinals of the WCHA Final Five Tournament Friday was all it took for Don Lucia’s team to claim a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Winning the Broadmoor Trophy on Saturday against North Dakota was just the icing on the cake.

The Bulldogs (26-12-4) fell to a two-seed and were placed in the same region as the Gophers.

Before the two teams meet again, Minnesota (26-13-3) will have to get past Notre Dame (20-14-4) in the Midwest Regional semifinal Saturday in Grand Rapids, Mich. Minnesota-Duluth will face Michigan State (23-16-2) in the other semifinal game.

“We beat Duluth when it counted,” Gophers senior Matt Koalska said. “And winning the WCHA playoffs gives us good momentum going into next week.”

Just three weeks ago, Minnesota’s grasp on first round home-ice advantage was shaken when the Gophers were swept by Denver.

Now, after winning six straight games and earning a top seed in the NCAA Tournament, Minnesota players said their uphill climb has given them a real sense of accomplishment.

“It’s pretty unbelievable,” assistant captain Troy Riddle said. “We’ve battled from all the way down.”

Fab freshmen

Minnesota’s freshmen players elevated their play during the WCHA playoffs.

Ryan Potulny scored four goals in the first-round series against St. Cloud State and added another against Minnesota-Duluth on Friday.

Danny Irmen notched three goals in the WCHA Final Five games played over the weekend.

“You can put Ryan and Danny in the same category,” senior captain Grant Potulny said. “They are both big-time blue-chip recruits, and stepping up as freshmen is a big deal, especially in this atmosphere.”

In recent weeks, Ryan Potulny has received more attention than his older brother, but scoring the winning goal Saturday thrust Grant Potulny back into the post-game interview spotlight.

And even with the recent surge of rookie offense, the freshmen still have plenty of respect for their elders.

“With Ryan coming back, it’s been unbelievable how we’ve played,” Irmen said. “But we know in the end the upperclassmen will be pulling us.”

All-Tournament team

After the game Saturday, WCHA officials presented the Broadmoor Trophy to the Gophers and announced the WCHA Final Five All-Tournament team.

Minnesota players Kellen Briggs, Keith Ballard and Irmen, and North Dakota players Brandon Bochenski, Zach Parise and Matt Jones rounded out the all-star squad.

Briggs was named the tournament’s most valuable player.

“I don’t know if my parents and family were voting for that, or what,” Briggs joked of the honor. “I think there were a lot of guys on the team who deserved it more than I did.”

Game notes

ï Saturday’s attendance of 19,306 fans was the largest crowd to watch a WCHA game in the league’s 52-year history.

ï By sweeping through the WCHA playoffs, the Gophers have now won 15 straight postseason games.