Captainless Gophers seek leader

Mike Mullen

Next week, Minnesota’s men’s hockey team will name its team captain for the season. And that player will have a tough act to follow.

Last year, senior Grant Potulny served his second year as the team’s captain – an honor not bestowed since Bob Carley led Minnesota during the 1944-45 and 1945-46 seasons. Before taking the helm, Potulny was an assistant captain his sophomore year.

“We were blessed to have Grant Potulny for the last three years,” senior Barry Tallackson said. “I didn’t know him that well when he was a sophomore, but as the years went by – what a difference he made. (Potulny) was a voice that everyone listened to.”

The Gophers now find themselves without a voice. The team has waited to choose its captains to accommodate its unusually large group of new players.

Voting, which gives equal weight to each player and coach, usually takes place in the spring. But this year’s crop of 10 freshmen forced coach Don Lucia to hold off until three games into the regular season. Lucia said he wanted to give the freshmen a chance to get to know the team before voting.

“I think we kind of know who the leaders are,” freshman Kris Chucko said. “We just want to see who steps up and takes that role.”

The task of captain is being shared so far, with four different players getting the nod in the team’s first four games. Tallackson donned the “C” in the 7-2 exhibition win against Calgary and scored the team’s first goal.

In Minnesota’s regular-season-opening 5-2 win over Denver on Saturday, senior defenseman Judd Stevens was the captain.

This weekend, the Gophers make the trip to Anchorage, Alaska, for the 2004 Frontier Classic, in which Lucia plans for two more upperclassmen to play captain. He said he hadn’t decided on which players as of Monday before practice but cited center Jake Fleming as a possibility.

Fleming, Stevens and Tallackson all come into this season with 120 or more games played for the Gophers.

Lucia said All-American defenseman – and Hobey Baker finalist – Keith Ballard would have been the obvious choice for captain this season had he not decided sign with the NHL’s Phoenix Coyotes.

“(Jordan) Leopold, (John) Pohl and Potulny – those guys were such natural leaders,”

Lucia said. “And Keith was like them in that way. Now I don’t think we have that one guy who’s an obvious leader.”

Chucko echoed a thought that pervades throughout the team – one player isn’t enough.

“It’s important that we find a leader, but it’s also important that it’s more than one guy,” Chucko said. “Or it can’t be the same two or three guys every night. As a team, we all need to step up and do our part.”

But, Tallackson said, it would mean a lot to him if his teammates picked him.

“It would be a great honor to follow Grant, and everyone else who has worn the ‘C,’ ” Tallackson said. “Either way, I know the team’s going to pick who they think is going to best represent them, on the ice and off it.”

Briggs defender of week

Minnesota sophomore goaltender Kellen Briggs was named WCHA defensive player of the week after making a career-high 32 saves – 18 of them in the third period – Saturday versus Denver.

With the performance, he avenged a couple of rough outings last year, when he was in goal for 6-2 and 6-3 losses against the eventual national champion Pioneers.