North Dakota natives help Gophers sweep the Sioux at Engelstad

Danny Irmen and Ryan Potulny combined for eight points on the road.

by Chris Lempesis

GRAND FORKS, N.D. ” When Danny Irmen was sent to the penalty box early in the second period of Friday’s game against North Dakota, the junior Minnesota men’s hockey forward got more than his fair share of harassment.

But, as fate would have it, Irmen ” a native of Fargo ” was quickly given a chance to send a message right back to the fans.

Irmen stepped out of the box just in time to get a breakaway on Sioux goaltender Jordan Parise. Irmen charged toward the net, made a nifty move and beat Parise backhand to give the Gophers a 3-2 lead.

Irmen punctuated his goal by skating toward the student section at Ralph Engelstad Arena, pulling out the M on his jersey in celebration.

“I was just trying to show a little Minnesota pride there,” Irmen said.

Irmen and fellow junior forward and North Dakota native Ryan Potulny, who hails from Grand Forks, were showing Minnesota pride all weekend against North Dakota.

The pair exploded for five goals and three assists (eight points) in the two games, keying the Gophers to a sweep over the Sioux. Irmen had two goals and three assists while Potulny notched three goals.

“Him and I are leaders on this team, and we gotta show that on the ice,” Potulny said after Saturday’s 4-3 win. “Especially after a weekend like last (the Gophers were swept at home by Wisconsin), we kind of took it upon ourselves.”

This was considerably easier for the pair to do since they were playing on the same line for the first time all season

after frequently being on the same line during their first two years.

Coach Don Lucia said the series was a good opportunity to finally pair Irmen and Potulny because the Gophers have two freshman forwards ” Phil Kessel and Blake Wheeler ” who will miss some time because of the upcoming World Junior Championships.

The pair wasted almost no time in rewarding Lucia for his decision. Irmen set up Potulny on Minnesota’s first goal Friday, which came all of 58 seconds into the contest. As impressive as their efforts were Friday, Potulny and Irmen were just as crucial Saturday.

The pair accounted for three of Minnesota’s four goals. Potulny had two of those goals and nearly notched the hat trick a couple of times in the third period. Irmen, meanwhile, scored the eventual game-winner and added an assist.

While the pair both were trying their hardest to play this weekend off as just another

series, it was obvious they were playing with an extra fire. Irmen’s intensity was especially noticeable ” at times, in fact, maybe too noticeable.

Irmen got sent to the penalty box on five separate occasions in the series, including a two-minute unsportsmanlike conduct penalty following his goal Saturday.

“Danny, if he wasn’t scoring, he was in the penalty box,” Lucia said. “But, he was certainly into it. And on the scoreboard, all over the ice, you noticed him.”

Things were going well for the pair even before the series began, as the entire team dined at the Potulny house Thursday night. Being in a comfortable situation like that helped Potulny relax, he said, and ease the extra tension placed on him from playing in his home state.

And, while the hostile crowd at Engelstad reserved a special batch of vile for the two home-state boys, in the end it was Potulny and Irmen ” both individually and team-wise ” who leave Grand Forks with the last laugh.

“It was fun,” Potulny said. “Got to see my family, got to go back to my house and everything worked out, two wins.”