(North Dakota’s) Pride On Ice
One of the more remarkable traditions Minnesota has is the near-exclusive use of Minnesota-born talent in the lineup. But when Don Lucia became coach at Minnesota three seasons ago, he recruited the first non-Minnesota player since 1986 by signing Grand Forks, N.D., native Grant Potulny. Potulny, a sophomore, scored the game’s first two goals.
“Grant’s not the flashiest player, but he’s good around the net,” said Don Lucia, Gopher head coach. “Right now, I don’t think anyone cares that he’s not from Minnesota.”
For Michigan, this postseason resembled the NCAA playoffs in 1998 in more ways than one. In that year, Michigan had a young squad, but relied on four-year starting goaltender Marty Turco. The lower-seeded Wolverines hosted the West Regional at Yost Arena, and rode the fan support to an upset win over No. 2 seed North Dakota to advance to the Frozen Four, where they faced Boston College on virtual home ice at Boston’s FleetCenter.
This year, Michigan has a young squad, and relied on four-year starting goaltender Josh Blackburn. The Wolverines advanced to the Frozen Four when they defeated No. 1 seed Denver in the West Regional, which was played at Yost Arena. Michigan then played host Minnesota at St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center.
That’s where the similarities end, however. In 1998, Michigan went on to down Boston College in overtime for the national title. This year, the Wolverines’ run ended in the semifinals.
With the Minnesota win, this marks the third consecutive year that a Hockey East school has met a WCHA team in the championship game. Boston College and North Dakota met in the finals in each of the last two years.
Minnesota will attempt to become the first team since Boston University in 1972 to win a championship in front of a hometown crowd.
“I didn’t anticipate the number of Minnesota fans,” said Lucia, who earlier had remarked that the St. Paul location wouldn’t be that much of an advantage for his squad. “When we scored the first goal, it was electric. Hopefully they can give us that kind of boost on Saturday.”
Two Men Down — Friend Or Foe?
Late in the second period and leading 2-0, Minnesota faced a 40-second span while down two players, followed by over a minute of Michigan power play. The Gophers killed off the penalties without allowing a goal, mirroring the earlier semifinal game between New Hampshire and Maine. With a 3-2 lead, Maine was short two players for 36 seconds, with a comparable New Hampshire power play following. New Hampshire failed to score on the two-man advantage, and the resulting momentum carried over and helped the Black Bears win the game.
Similarly, after killing off the two penalties, Minnesota would score the insurance goal in the third period en route to the 3-2 win.
“That 5-on-3, you don’t want to see that in hockey,” said Minnesota’s Hobey Baker finalist, Jordan Leopold. “That was the key in the game.”
Playing With Numbers
The semifinal between Michigan and Minnesota had an announced attendance of 19,234. That broke the previous record of 19,227 — set in today’s earlier semifinal. The mark is a new record for an NCAA semifinal, for a crowd at the Xcel Energy Center, and for most people attending a hockey game in the state of Minnesota.
The State Of College Hockey
Michigan Tech sports information director Dave Fischer, who conducted this year’s postgame press conferences, is well known for coming up with obscure facts or statistics.
This year’s entry: Regardless of the winners in Thursday’s semifinal games, a state was slated to win the 2002 hockey championship. The four participants were Maine, Michigan, Minnesota and New Hampshire, all state schools. With Maine and Minnesota meeting in the championship game, a team that begins with ‘M’ will win this year’s title.
Having the Hobey Baker Award ceremony on the day off between the national semifinals and championship game, can make for awkward emotions for players involved in both.
A few players, such as Harvard’s Lane MacDonald (1989) and Maine’s Paul Kariya (1993) have won the championship the day after taking the Hobey, but many more have lost that title game — players like Jason Krog (1999), Mike Mottau (2000) and Tom Kurvers (1984) are in that category.
Of course, Minnesota’s Jordan Leopold hasn’t won the Hobey yet, but he’s firmly in the camp of those who would rather not have the individual issues hanging over his head while preparing for the championship.
“It’s different because the award is given away before there’s another game,” says Leopold. “I’ve always felt that individual awards should be give out after the season. But when you’ve got everyone here and the hype is around, I guess you have to [do it].
“It’ll be interesting. I’ll be nervous, but that’s natural.
“That’s the least of my worries. I’m playing in the national championship, and that’s all I ever asked for.”
“Taffe made the timeout signal, but coach waved him off. I thought, ‘We had better win this faceoff or we’re in trouble.’” — Gopher John Pohl, on the game’s final seconds.
“I wasn’t eating glass the whole night, which was nice.” — Leopold, on Minnesota’s anticipation of a physical game by Michigan
“Everyone tells you these will be the quickest four years of your life, and they are right … I think I’ll sit in this jersey for a bit. I’m not ready to take it off quite yet.” — Blackburn, on the end of the season and his career at Michigan
“When your best players don’t score, it’s going to be tough.” — Michigan skipper Red Berenson, on why Michigan didn’t win the game
“In the first round [of the WCHA playoffs] we beat North Dakota, the 2000 national champion. Today we beat the 1998 champion. On Saturday, we’ll play the 1999 champions. So we’re facing experienced teams.” — Lucia, on the quality of opponents in the postseason.