ST. PAUL, Minn. — Call it the Grant Potulny Show.
Minnesota’s captain — who this weekend made his return to the Xcel Center ice six months after breaking his leg in the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Game — scored two goals in the first six minutes Saturday to lead the Gophers to the WCHA championship, 4-2 over Colorado College.
“Grant’s Grant,” said Gopher head coach Don Lucia, who added that the junior is “playing outstanding hockey for us right now.”
“Potulny was unstoppable for three or four minutes,” said the Tigers’ Peter Sejna.
Also starring was netminder Justin Johnson, once again pressed into service in place of the injured Travis Weber. Johnson stopped 36 shots as CC outshot Minnesota 38-25 for the game.
“I just prepared like I was going to play,” said Johnson, “whether Travis was practicing or not.”
Minnesota (24-8-9) stunned Colorado College (29-6-5) with two goals just 20 seconds apart in the game’s first two minutes.
Potulny, who changed Friday’s game with a key goal in the third period, opened the scoring just 1:29 in. Barry Tallackson got in deep on the left-wing side before dumping the puck in front of the net, where an unmarked Potulny swept across and whacked it past CC netminder Curtis McElhinney.
“It was a play that Barry made possible,” said Potulny, who scored a goal in his seventh straight postseason game. “He outmuscled two guys.”
Potulny filled the role of playmaker on the second goal, getting the puck across the slot to Gino Guyer, who got his stick out far enough to drive it home to McElhinney’s glove side.
Penalties to Peter Sejna and Keith Ballard, followed by a hook against Joe Cullen, put Minnesota on a four-on-three, and the Gophers converted a power-play goal for the 17th straight game.
Matt Koalska hit Thomas Vanek with a sharp cross-ice pass, and Vanek sent it across the crease to Potulny, whose second dig at the puck sent it drifting past McElhinney, who had started to dive out of the net.
That made it 3-0 less than six minutes in, putting CC in an ultimately-insurmountable hole.
“We wanted a fast start,” said Potulny. “With the firepower they have, they can bury you.”
Consecutive penalties tested Minnesota, but the Gophers held the Tigers off despite a partial breakaway for Brett Sterling. The freshman rapped a wrister off Johnson.
The Gophers nearly made it a four-goal lead in the waning moments of the second period when Gino Guyer’s shorthanded rush was stopped inches short by the stick of McElhinney. The CC netminder appeared to push the puck across the goal line while gloving it, but the play was ruled dead.
On the same power play, the Tigers capitalized. Sterling picked up a loose puck in traffic after a Tom Preissing slapshot and jammed it through Johnson to give CC a lift heading into the third period.
The goal reflected a season-long problem for Minnesota, which gave up tallies in the final minute of a period repeatedly this year.
CC dominated the early minutes of the third, but Minnesota’s Jon Waibel finished off a two-on-one with a slapshot from between the circles at 5:13 to make it a three-goal Gopher lead again.
“We’re thinking whoever gets the next goal at that point has a good chance to win the game,” said CC coach Scott Owens.
The Tigers wouldn’t fold the tents, though, going to national scoring leader Sejna for a big-time goal. Sejna went low on the right-wing side and slipped the puck through an impossibly small space between Johnson’s shoulder and the near post to make it 4-2.
“I’m proud of the way we battled back,” said Owens. “Minnesota’s a very good hockey team that’s playing its best hockey right now.”
Sterling nearly made it a one-goal game late in the period, but couldn’t get the puck through a sprawling Johnson.
Down two, CC pulled McElhinney with a minute and a half left, but was forced to return him to the net with 51 seconds left after Vanek chased the puck down behind the Tiger net, forcing the Tigers into icing it. That ended the threat, as Minnesota went on to the win.
The Tigers, who can expect a No. 1 seed in the NCAAs regardless, were philosophical.
“It’s not like we were fighting for our lives,” said Preissing. “It just would have been a very nice win.”
Minnesota, of course, was more upbeat.
“For me, this is 10 years in the WCHA and the first time I’ve won [the Broadmoor Trophy],” said Lucia.
With the win, Minnesota appeared to secure a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. The Gophers will play at Mariucci Arena as the host of the West Regional. CC, meanwhile, should also be a No. 1, most likely in Ann Arbor, Mich., at the Midwest Regional.