The end of an era was signaled Wednesday when Grant Potulny, a 19-year-old forward for the Lincoln Stars of the USHL and a native of Grand Forks, N.D., verbally committed to play hockey for Minnessota.
Potulny will be the first non-native Minnesotan to play since Doug Woog took over the program. Woog inherited two out-of-state recruits, forward Steve McSwain of Alaska and goaltender John Blue of California. Both finished their careers in 1987 and Woog never recruited out of state.
The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Potulny chose Minnesota over Minnesota-Duluth, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Lake Superior State. He currently is second for the Stars in scoring with 19 goals and 23 assists.
Minnesota coach Don Lucia can’t comment on recruits until they’ve actually signed tenders during the first week of April. The issue of out-of-state recruits was one he tackled immediately upon taking the Minnesota job.
Lucia is quoted on the issue in this season’s Gophers media guide.
“The one thing I know is that I will not be able to please everyone with my answer,” Lucia said. “I envision the majority of our recruits will always come from the state of Minnesota … eventually, there will be a recruit from out of state.”
True to his word, Lucia ended the all-Minnesota legacy of Woog’s after one season. Gophers hockey backers seemed happy with the idea of a recruit coming from out of state.
Jack Hanson, a member of the Blue Line hockey booster club and long-time season ticket holder, said the time has come for players from outside Minnesota to play for the Gophers.
“I don’t see any problem with it,” Hanson said. “Coach Lucia has to do whatever it takes to turn the program around. And I don’t see any problems with the fans, as long as the team wins.”
Years ago, the Gophers survived on in-state talent without having to recruit against Minnesota rivals St. Cloud, Minnesota State and Duluth.
In addition, neighboring schools like North Dakota, Wisconsin and Colorado College rose to prominence with countless Minnesota players on their roster.
Blue Liner and long time Gophers fan Norm Dixon said the challenges of recruiting in state exclusively ultimately became too great.
“It’s pretty hard to compete with a lot of top-quality Minnesota players going to Wisconsin, St. Cloud and North Dakota,” Dixon said.
“In years past, a top Minnesota kid was willing to come to Minnesota and sit or maybe play sparingly his freshman year. Now they can go to another school and start,” Dixon said
Hanson also added the problem didn’t necessarily exist with where players are born but in how old they are.
“Ultimately, we can’t afford to take six high school seniors. It locks up scholarships, and doesn’t leave room for the 20-year-old kid. I’d still like to see the top two or three high school kids but there has to be room for the older kids coming out of juniors.”
Josh Linehan covers men’s hockey and welcomes comments at [email protected]