NATIONAL CHAMPIONS

David La Vaque

On Friday, Minnesota defenseman Jordan Leopold received the Hobey Baker Memorial Award, given to the best player in college hockey.

The Golden Valley native entered a hallowed circle of Gopher greats, joining Neal Broten (1981), Robb Stauber (1988) and Brian Bonin (1996) as one of the program’s four honorees.

On Saturday, Minnesota forward Grant Potulny scored a power-play goal at 16:58 in overtime to give the Gophers their first national championship in 23 years in front of 19,324 at the Xcel Energy Center.

The Grand Forks, N.D., native added two goals in the semifinal win over Michigan, and for his efforts earned Most Outstanding Player of the championships.

Potulny now takes his place among an equally elite group of Gopher players, joining Brad Shelstad (1974), Tom Vannelli (1976) and Steve Janaszak (1979) as the program’s most clutch performers on the biggest stage.

In Minnesota’s four NCAA tournament games over the last two seasons, Potulny contributed six goals. Not bad for an individual long described by coach Don Lucia as a complementary player.

Exactly when Potulny transformed into a trophy goal scorer is a mystery.

“I have no idea,” Potulny said. “My role is to play hard along the walls and be the guy other teams hate playing against.”

The first non-Minnesotan to play for the Gophers since 1987, Potulny was joined on the All-Tournament team by teammates Johnny Pohl and Adam Hauser.

Like his goals against the Wolverines, Potulny’s game winner on Saturday resulted from superb concentration and effort.

A tripping call on Maine’s Michael Schutte at 15:58 gave Minnesota a critical power-play opportunity in overtime. Exactly one minute later, Potulny located the puck in a scrum and slipped it under goaltender Matt Yeats.

Potulny scored two goals against the Black Bears last season in Minnesota’s 5-4 overtime loss at the NCAA East Regional.

“There’s a reason Grant scores the types of goals he does this time of year,” Lucia said. “You have to work really hard for your goals and he’s that type of player.”

Potulny ends the season with 34 points, one better than his freshman campaign. But his 15 goals are seven off his rookie pace. In addition, Potulny led the nation with 16 power-play goals last season, but Saturday’s marker gives him only nine this year.

Though he’s struggled to dent twine this season, Potulny kept performing the unglamorous tasks that earned him assistant captain honors from teammates.

Known league-wide as a formidable presence in front of the net, the 6-foot-2, 198-pound Potulny accepted the abuse again this season despite a drop in his scoring numbers.

He also remained a vocal presence in the locker room.

“He’s extremely hard
working,” Lucia said. “He’s not the greatest player to come out of Grand Forks, but we’re always on our forwards to finish checks and grind and that’s the type of player he is.”

In the end, the blue-collar player from North Dakota who brought down the recruiting wall scored the goal that will raise a championship banner in Mariucci Arena.

David La Vaque welcomes comments at [email protected]