Ex-Gophers go for Olympics

by David McCoy

Minnesota’s men’s hockey team has been synonymous with U.S. Olympic hockey since the birth of the winter games.

And if Gophers coach Don Lucia’s guess is right, two more are about to join the long list of Gophers to play for the United States.

Former Gophers Jordan Leopold and Paul Martin were both invited to the U.S. Olympic Orientation Camp on Sept. 5-8 in Colorado Springs, Colo.

It’s the first step to making the 2006 Olympic team – a team Lucia said he thinks they’ll be on when it comes time for the games February in Torino, Italy.

“Both of them are two of the elite young defensemen in the United States,” Lucia said. “So it was pretty much a given that they would be selected to at least the first phase. I think both of them, unless there’s a surprise, should make the Olympic team.”

Leopold plays for the NHL’s Calgary Flames and Martin plays for the New Jersey Devils. The defensemen are two of 39 players at the camp vying for spots on the team.

But a solid performance at the camp won’t guarantee a spot.

“It will not be a tryout camp, as the evaluation process will continue throughout the first part of the NHL season,” Olympic team general manager Don Waddell said in a release. “However, it will be an important first step in the total process.”

Leopold, the 2002 Hobey Baker Award winner, is Minnesota’s career leader in goals by a defenseman with 45, and was a two-time All-American. Martin, a second-team All-American in 2002-03 played for Team USA in the 2004 World Cup of Hockey.

Both led the Gophers to an NCAA title in 2002, and Martin was a part of the 2003 title team. Now Lucia said it’s time for them to take the next step – and then maybe a few more.

He said Leopold and Martin have a chance at going to a few more Olympics after 2006. That would be all right with Martin.

“There aren’t going to be any (Brian) Leetches or (Chris) Chelioses,” Martin said. “They aren’t coming. I guess they want to keep the team young for the future.”