One of the more interested people in Minnesota watching Sunday's Olympic gold medal men's hockey game was Shattuck-St. Mary's High School coach Tom Ward. Five players in the game played for the Faribault, Minn., prep school, including Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, who scored the winning goal in the 3-2 Canadian victory, and Devils forward Zach Parise, who tied the score for Team USA in the final minute of regulation.

Team USA's Ryan Malone (Lightning) and Jack Johnson (Kings) and Canada's Jonathan Toews (Blackhawks) also played at the school. Three of the five goals in the championship game in Vancouver were scored by former Shattuck players, with Toews' goal giving Canada a 1-0 lead in the first period.

"I mean obviously being from the U.S., I felt bad for those guys, but like I said it was exciting to see the guys from Shattuck score, Toews getting the first one and Zach tying it up and Sidney getting the other one, so it was a good day for Shattuck hockey," said Ward, who is in his 11th year at Shattuck.

Ward recalls Crosby enrolling at Shattuck when he was 15, and even then, the hockey geniuses were touting him as the next big Canadian prodigy, matching Mario Lemieux. And he has done just what they expected -- with Lemieux's team -- leading Pittsburgh to the Stanley Cup last season at age 21.

Ward said the strength of all five players was their passion for the game, and that they were all hard-working kids who were cut from the same cloth.

Malone, 30, is the oldest of the group and was at the school in 1997-98, before Ward's arrival in 1999. Ward said he believes Malone, a Pittsburgh-area native, was "kind of one of the pioneers" of the Shattuck program. He went on to star at St. Cloud State for four seasons.

Of the five players in Sunday's game, Johnson and Crosby were the only ones who were teammates at Shattuck, in 2002-03, and they made quite a pair for one of Ward's best teams. That year, Crosby's only one at Shattuck, the Canadian star had 72 goals in 52 games.

Crosby had four goals and three assists in the Olympics, while Parise had four goals and four assists and Toews had a goal and seven assists.

Ward said he doesn't know if he has any future NHL stars on his present team. He does have Lemieux's daughter, Stephanie, who is 15 and an outstanding player.

"I don't know if we've got anybody that's in those guys' class, but we've got good players," Ward said. "We're lucky that we still have kids that are interested to come to our school, so that's good."

One student who didn't hang around was Wayne Gretzky's oldest son, Ty, who went back home to Phoenix after one year at the school and now is a freshman at Arizona State.

Right now, Ward said he is gearing up for a big tournament at Shattuck in April, where there will be teams competing from all over the world. Maybe at that tournament, one of the current players will emerge as a potential NHL star down the line.

NCAA possible

Gophers men's basketball coach Tubby Smith said his team still has a chance to make the NCAA tournament.

"It's a long shot, we've got a lot to do," Smith said after the Gophers won at Illinois for the first time since 1996 with a 62-60 victory Saturday. "We've had our chances all year long, and there's still hope. We've got to play. I tell our players all the time, we've got to play like it's our last game, like it's our only game.

"I thought Saturday our kids came ready to play. I thought we could have put the game away a lot sooner had there not been other elements in the game to keep them in it."

Smith says that blowing leads is a mental thing. The Gophers led by 19 with six minutes to play, but Illinois had the ball trailing by a point in the final minute before the Gophers held on.

"You can't have any letups, you know teams are going to make runs at you," Smith said. "Teams have about two runs in them at the end of the game when you're behind, and you've got to have people to step up, make their free throws, and you've got to have a little help, too. I don't think we've done that."

The Gophers play at Michigan on Tuesday, a game they certainly can't afford to lose.

Jottings

Timberwolves and Lynx President Chris Wright said the presence of former Gophers star Lindsay Whalen on the Lynx roster has resulted in fantastic interest in tickets, corporate support and other revenue sources for the WNBA team.

Coach Kurt Rambis reminded his Timberwolves players after their loss to Portland on Saturday night that things won't be easy the rest of the way, with 13 of their next 14 foes fighting for playoff spots. ... The Knicks, as expected, bought out the contract of Brian Cardinal after they acquired him from the Wolves for center Darko Milicic, who has been a pleasant surprise in five games here after sitting on New York's bench the previous three months. In fact, the acquisition of Milicic might turn out to be the best trade David Kahn has made.

That was former Gophers hockey star Joe Micheletti interviewing players during NBC's Olympic hockey coverage. He has worked the past five Winter Olympics for television.

Roseville's Michael Richards became the fourth Gophers swimmer to win both the 50- and 100-yard freestyle in the Big Ten championships, where his team finished third this weekend in Columbus, Ohio.

Typical of the many athletes who moved here from Florida and then remain here is John Swain, the former University of Miami defensive back who played for the Vikings from 1981 to '84, who is now the coach at Minneapolis Henry. He took over last fall for the retiring Roger French. ... Former Gophers quarterback Cory Sauter has been named interim football coach at Southwest Minnesota State after Eric Eidsness resigned to take a position on the South Dakota State staff. Sauter is the Mustangs offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.

Braham, Minn., product Noah Dahlman had 20 points and eight rebounds to lead Wofford to a 74-68 victory over the College of Charleston on Thursday. With the victory, Wofford (22-8) won the Southern Conference regular-season title. Dahlman, a 6-6 junior, is a finalist for the conference player of the year, and averaging 17.4 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. Two DeLaSalle products -- junior guards Jamar Diggs and Cameron Rundles -- also did well for Wofford that game, as Diggs scored 19 points and Rundles 15. Wofford will play the Gophers next season.

Former Gophers pitcher Marcus McKenzie has signed to play for Maui of the independent Golden Baseball League.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. • shartman@startribune.com