Gophers win first Broadmoor Trophy of Lucia era

by Adam Fink

On Friday, it took two periods for Minnesota’s men’s hockey team to feel comfortable on the Xcel Energy Center ice.

Saturday’s WCHA Final Five Championship game against top-ranked Colorado College proved to be a different story.

After coming from behind to defeat Minnesota State-Mankato 3-2 in the quarterfinals, the Gophers surged to a 3-0 lead six minutes into the championship game against the Tigers.

With emotions running high, captain and tournament MVP Grant Potulny scored two of Minnesota’s first three goals. Gino Guyer and Jon Waibel added the other goals as the fifth-ranked Gophers hung on to win 4-2 in front of a pro-Minnesota crowd of 16,668 in St. Paul.

The win gives the Gophers their first Broadmoor Trophy – the award given to the tournament’s champion – since 1996 and the opportunity to hang a new WCHA banner from the Mariucci Arena rafters.

“None of our guys have won this award before,” coach Don Lucia said. “It’s not easy to win any kind of championship.”

The Gophers (24-8-9) went 2-0 over the weekend for two reasons: goaltending and consistency from all four lines.

Justin Johnson, who replaced the injured Travis Weber, was named to the all-tournament team after allowing only two goals and stopping 36 shots Saturday against the highest scoring team in the conference (4.64 goals per contest).

The sophomore made three stops in one-on-one opportunities and was in position for saves during the majority of the night. Johnson also stopped 14 shots against the Mavericks on Friday.

“(Johnson) was always where he needed to be,” said Tigers’ forward Peter Sejna, the nation’s leading scorer. “We didn’t challenge him enough.”

For the past three weeks, Lucia has stated he doesn’t consider his third or fourth line any different than the top two.

Evidence of this confidence came Friday against Minnesota State-Mankato. Lucia played the line-chart’s fourth line for the final minute of regulation and on many power-play chances.

While they don’t have nationally recognizable names, the third and fourth line hustled, played strong defense and generated offensive chances.

“This team doesn’t have the three superstars like last season,” Potulny said. “But someone comes through every game.”

Despite losing Jeff Taffe, Jordan Leopold and Johnny Pohl from last year’s squad, Minnesota finished with its highest conference standings and its first WCHA Final Five title in Lucia’s four years in Minneapolis.

The Gophers – 14-2-4 in their past 20 games – now take aim at something last year’s team did accomplish: the national title.

“We are starting to play our best hockey at the right time of the year,” Lucia said.

League awards

Thomas Vanek’s game-winning goal against Minnesota State-Mankato at the 3:57 mark of overtime Friday topped off an impressive two days of individual achievement.

The day before his slapshot sent the Gophers into the championship game, Vanek notched the league’s top rookie honors.

Vanek edged North Dakota rookie Zach Parise for Rookie of the Year.

Player of the year went to Sejna. Co-defensive players of the year went to the Tigers Joe Cullen and Denver’s Aaron MacKenzie.

Coach of the year went to the Mavericks’ Troy Jutting, who guided Minnesota State-Mankato to their highest WCHA finish.

In All-WCHA honors, Minnesota put three Gophers on the second team – Vanek, Paul Martin and Keith Ballard. Troy Riddle made third team, while freshman Chris Harrington made the all-rookie team.

Keeping count at the X

2: the number of overtime games (both of Saturday’s semifinals)

3: the number of goals Potulny scored over the weekend

5: WCHA Final Five titles Minnesota has won.

20: the number of seconds it took the Gophers to notch two goals Saturday night

72,786: total attendance for the five games; second highest ever

1,511,991: league attendance for the entire season; a new record