GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. ññ As time ticked away in Minnesota’s men’s hockey season, captain Grant Potulny chased the puck behind Minnesota-Duluth’s goal.
And after the final horn sounded, Bulldogs players mobbed goaltender Issac Reichmuth behind the net as seniors Potulny, Matt Koalska and Troy Riddle slowly skated back to their bench.
The Gophers’ loss marked the end of their college careers and the end of a chapter in Minnesota hockey history.
“The best four years of my life,” Potulny said of his Minnesota career while choking back tears in the post-game press conference. “Obviously this is a low-point, but we’ve really had some high points and done some amazing things here.”
Before losing to Minnesota-Duluth, the Gophers had won 16 straight playoff games, including two national championships. The seniors advanced to the NCAA Tournament in each of their four seasons in Minnesota.
Coach Don Lucia said he will remember the five seniors for more than what they accomplished on the ice.
“We’re not only losing great players, but great people,” Lucia said. “Koalska, Riddle, Grant, Joey (Martin) and (Jon) Waibel, they all had their roles and were fun people to be around. Not many people can leave a program after hanging four banners and the success they’ve had. They’re going to be tough to replace.”
Potulny said that next season the underclassmen will pick up where he and his classmates left off.
“It started with Johnny (Pohl) and Leo (Jordan Leopold), and they passed it down to us, and we’ve had it the last couple years, and now we pass it down to the (underclassmen),” Potulny said. “I expect nothing but good things from that team and this program, because they’ve been there and the bar is set now.”
Irish put up a fight
Lucia, who played for Notre Dame from 1977-81, said he was excited to see the Irish in their first NCAA hockey tournament.
“It’s good for college hockey that Notre Dame was in the NCAA Tournament,” Lucia said.
Irish coach Dave Poulin said he received more than 100 e-mails and received many calls last week when after the NCAA announced Notre Dame’s selection.
One of the first people to call Poulin was Lucia, his teammate with the Irish for three years.
“It’s great for our program,” Poulin said. “We’ve finished in the top 20 the last few years. Now the next step is to get in the top 10.”
Strong WCHA showing
Besides Minnesota-Duluth, which defeated WCHA Final Five champion Minnesota for the Midwest Regional title, other WCHA teams fared well over the weekend.
North Dakota ññ the WCHA regular season champion and top-seed in the NCAA Tournament – was upset in the
West Regional final 1-0 by fellow WCHA representative Denver.
“I think it speaks for our league that the regular season champion and playoffs champion are sitting at home, and two different teams are in the Frozen Four,” Lucia said.
In the East Regional, Wisconsin came within a goal of knocking off top-seeded Maine. The Badgers fell victim to an overtime goal to lose 2-1.
The Bulldogs and Pioneers will now meet April 8 in Boston for the semifinals of the Frozen Four.