Like a loyal pet, men’s hockey team provides comfort at end of rough day

by Aaron Blake

Eleven a.m. to 9:30 p.m. All Minnesota sports, all the time.

Saturday had such potential for Twin Citians – Minnesota’s football team playing for a ticket to the Rose Bowl at 11 a.m., Johan Cy-tana on the mound in the playoffs at 3 p.m. and the regular season opener for Minnesota’s men’s hockey team at the Xcel Energy Center at 7 p.m.

But by the end, the pucksters’ 5-2 win over defending national champion Denver was a bronze medal, a gift hesitantly excepted from that aunt you don’t especially care for. You didn’t get the video game system you wanted, but try to smile and act like you’re not disappointed.

Mr. Lucia, make the Minnesota sports faithful feel better.

“The Twins season’s over now and there’s no NHL season right now. I think a lot of people were waiting to see us,” he said after Saturday’s game. “We lost so many players from last year, but I think we’re going to be a fun team to watch this year.”

OK Ö tell them more.

“I think we’re going to work extremely hard. We’re not going to have, at least right now, any superstars on our team,” he said. “We’re just going to be a bunch of hard-working guys that are going to be fun to coach and get better.”

All right. Fair enough.

It was just one game, but the continued Potulny family dominance of the Minnesota State Capitol combined with the chipper, smiling faces of a green group of underclassmen did provide some solace for the weary Scandinavians.

Ryan Potulny could’ve been mistaken for brother Grant Potulny on the sheet at the Xcel Energy Center, notching a hat trick in the building his brother rented as his official postseason stomping grounds for the last three seasons.

Lucia continues to try and find the right combinations to prove to people that his team can win without Thomas Vanek, Keith Ballard, Jake Taylor, Matt Koalska, Troy Riddle and Ö pause for breath Ö the elder Potulny.

On Saturday, the strategy was plugging in one freshman on all four offensive lines and in all three defensive pairings.

And it worked – at least for one night. Minnesota dominated the Pioneers’ zone in the first period and righted the ship when they snuck within 3-2 midway through the third.

Lucia’s unsolicited praise for sophomore goaltender Kellen Briggs within 10 seconds of the start of his post-game interview was well-deserved. Briggs faced 10 Denver power plays and was a misdirected pass away from completely shutting them out on the man advantage.

Junior Tyler Hirsch appeared poised to turn into the leader Lucia is seeking out, scoring his third goal in three days, including the two in Thursday’s exhibition versus Calgary.

So what gives with the new-and-improved Tyler Hirsch?

“It has to do a lot with a whole different atmosphere in our locker room,” Hirsch said. “It’s fresh, and there’s a lot more energy and a lot of young guys who are excited to be out there and play hockey. It brings everybody up.”

Well, maybe not everybody.

But at least somebody won Saturday.