North Dakota native returns home for showdown in Gophers uniform

David La

As the first non-Minnesotan to play hockey for the Gophers in 13 years, Grant Potulny is reminded of his distinction by just about everyone he meets.
Hands are shook, small talk is made and the moment is reached.
“They ask where I’m from,” Potulny said. “I tell them and they say, `Oh, so you’re the guy.’ Then I try to move on to something else.”
Potulny, a native of Grand Forks, N.D. is the guy, the object of curiosity, the new kid in town.
This weekend, No. 1 Minnesota travels to North Dakota, bringing Potulny back to his hometown where he’s something of a hockey celebrity.
Potulny’s Red River High School won state championships from 1996 to 1998, with Potulny named to three all-city and two all-state teams.
After forgoing his senior year for the USHL, Potulny was named the 2000 MVP of the Lincoln Stars.
But Potulny received little attention from the Fighting Sioux, and took recruiting visits to five other schools eager for his services, including Minnesota.
“When (Minnesota) first contacted me I was very excited, because I knew how awesome this place was,” Potulny said. “Once I was out of North Dakota, I really didn’t want to go back. I wanted to move on to something totally different. I just didn’t think there was any way it would happen here because of the tradition.”
Gophers head coach Don Lucia bucked the 13-year tradition, citing `Minnesota’s Pride On Ice’ as a reflection of winning and not geography.
“If people want to see the University of Minnesota be successful, they’re going to cheer who’s wearing the jersey, not where he’s from,” Lucia said. “We’re extremely happy with Grant right now.”
The 6-foot-2, 198-pound Potulny provides the Gophers a tough, physical forward with solid puck skills. Potulny has spent much of the season on Erik Westrum’s line, helping the senior center to a third-place tie for points in the conference.
Potulny also cracked Minnesota’s vaunted power-play unit, playing in front of the net where grit and skill are mandatory.
Through eight games, Potulny has six points, good for third in scoring among WCHA freshmen.
“I’ll be the first guy to tell you I’m not the smoothest player,” Potulny said. “But I bang, I make some plays and I compete every night.”
Potulny is primed for this weekend’s series with defending national champion Sioux. It’s a day Potulny said he’s dreamed about since signing with the Gophers.
Indeed, a match-up between two top teams in the spirited, hostile environment of Ralph Engelstad Arena makes for an entertaining weekend.
The Fighting Sioux struggled at times this season, allowing lowly Michigan Tech and marginal Minnesota State to each snatch a win.
Minnesota looks to improve on its 1-10-1 record in Grand Forks over the last six seasons, and Potulny feels North Dakota has grown increasingly vulnerable.
“You can’t win titles every year,” Potulny said. “They’re still going to end up being a team that goes to the NCAA tournament, but you can’t keep a streak like that alive forever.”
A successful weekend will make Potulny a continued winner in Grand Forks, and allow him to benefit from changes in the norm once again.

David La Vaque covers men’s hockey and welcomes comments at [email protected]