Potulny bridges gap of U glory past, present

  • Article by: RACHEL BLOUNT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 22, 2012 - 10:39 PM

The hero of the 2002 NCAA title game is now an assistant, urging players to dare to be great.

The Gophers' Grant Potulny (shown in 2002) is now an assistant coach with the team.

Photo: Richard Tsong-Taatarii, Star Tribune

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Grant Potulny never had felt so empty on a Sunday morning. During his first two seasons as a Gophers assistant coach, he awoke with a heavy heart on the day the NCAA announced the field for its men's hockey tournament, knowing his team would not be part of it.

That was a strange experience for a guy who never missed the tournament as a player. The Gophers won back-to-back NCAA championships in 2002 and 2003, with Potulny's overtime goal sealing the 2002 title at Xcel Energy Center. Saturday, the Gophers return to the NCAA stage in that same arena, with Potulny eager to see how the big dance looks from behind the bench.

He rejoined the program as an assistant coach in 2009, only five years removed from his college playing days. After ending a 23-year NCAA title drought with that memorable goal, Potulny will help end another as the Gophers play their first NCAA tournament game since 2008 -- and being back at Xcel for their opener against Boston University is a happy bonus.

"This year, waking up on Sunday knowing we were still playing, it was such a great feeling," Potulny said. "And not only for me. I was on a plane [on a recruiting trip earlier this week], and people were saying, 'Go get 'em. Good luck. We can't wait.'

"I always thought there was nothing better than winning a game at Mariucci Arena, except for winning one at Xcel. That stage is bigger and brighter, with more people. It's a special moment when you share those victories with not only the city, but the whole state."

Or with the entire Gopher nation. When Potulny scored the goal that beat Maine 4-3 in the 2002 title game, he became an instant legend. That came less than two years after the North Dakota native joined the program amid some controversy as the first non-Minnesotan on a Gophers men's hockey roster since 1987.

During a career that ran from 2000 to 2004, Potulny developed a love for the U as deep and enduring as any home-grown Gopher. That's what lured him back after five seasons of pro hockey, and it's made him an enthusiastic salesman for the program. Potulny, 32, does most of the recruiting travel; when he is home, he works with the Gophers' forwards and helps break down video of opponents.

Potulny started as a volunteer assistant in May 2009 and earned full-time status two months later. Coach Don Lucia said he wanted to hire an alumnus, preferably one young enough to relate to players. As the Gophers' first three-year captain since 1947, Potulny had shown he was a loyal, passionate leader, with a fine hockey mind and an endless capacity to work and learn.

"Grant was a good player, but not an elite player," Lucia said. "He had to work for everything he was able to get. More often than not, those are the guys who make good coaches."

Potulny also had done what every college player hopes to do: win an NCAA championship. Some of the current Gophers remember seeing him do it, including sophomore defenseman Nate Schmidt.

A St. Cloud native, Schmidt wasn't a Gophers fan in 2002. But he watched the title game with hundreds of people at the Eden Prairie Community Center, and he knew what Potulny could teach his team.

"He's been where we want to get to, and he takes extra pride in letting us know what it takes to get to the next level," Schmidt said. "It's good to have a guy with his experience, who can instill what it takes to be the championship-caliber team we want to be."

As fun as it was to play, Potulny said it is even more gratifying to be a coach and help others discover success. He views Saturday's return to the NCAA tournament as another important step for the Gophers, just as that 2002 title was.

Sometimes, Potulny said, the players ask him about that season. While he will happily share stories, he also reminds them of the great teams that came before them, the ones that inspired him. When they take the ice Saturday, he wants them to know the moment does not belong solely to them, but to all Gophers -- past, present and future.

"This program has such a storied history," Potulny said. "I think it's their responsibility to know what happened before they got here, so they know what they're expected to do.

"A lot of people worked very hard to build this program. I'm fortunate to be part of it, and our guys are, too. They have to accept the responsibility of giving nothing but the best effort, of trying to be great. That's how you achieve something that stays with you forever."

Rachel Blount • rblount@startribune.com

  • HOCKEY TOURNAMENT REGIONAL PREVIEW

    Gophers vs. Boston University, 4 p.m. Saturday, Xcel Center

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Buffalo 17 4th Qtr 6:03
New England 9
Cleveland 10 4th Qtr 13:15
Baltimore 3
Dallas 27 4th Qtr 14:30
Washington 10
Indianapolis 20 4th Qtr 14:56
Tennessee 10
Jacksonville 17 4th Qtr 13:34
Houston 21
San Diego 7 4th Qtr 13:00
Kansas City 19
NY Jets 24 3rd Qtr 0:08
Miami 24
Chicago 6 4th Qtr 9:02
Minnesota 13
Philadelphia 24 3rd Qtr 3:43
NY Giants 19
New Orleans 14 4th Qtr 11:00
Tampa Bay 20
Carolina 3:25 PM
Atlanta
Detroit 3:25 PM
Green Bay
Oakland 3:25 PM
Denver
Arizona 3:25 PM
San Francisco
St. Louis 3:25 PM
Seattle
Cincinnati 7:30 PM
Pittsburgh
TBA 1/3/15 2:00 AM
TBA
TBA 1/3/15 2:00 AM
TBA
TBA 1/4/15 2:00 AM
TBA
TBA 1/4/15 2:00 AM
TBA
Detroit 3:30 PM
Cleveland
Houston 6:00 PM
San Antonio
Oklahoma City 6:30 PM
Dallas
New York 8:00 PM
Portland
Toronto 8:00 PM
Denver
Phoenix 8:30 PM
LA Lakers
Toronto 4:00 PM
Florida
Vancouver 7:00 PM
Anaheim
Tulane 57 FINAL
St Johns 82
Central Conn St 48 FINAL
Connecticut 81
Iona 81 FINAL
Drexel 62
Concordia (MI) 42 FINAL
Eastern Mich 100
Harvard 39 2nd Half 8:50
Arizona State 47
Longwood 39 2nd Half 11:53
Ball State 43
Sacred Heart 58 2nd Half 10:53
Brown 55
Colgate 43 2nd Half 10:32
Columbia 48
MD-Eastern Shore 61 2nd Half 9:02
Duquesne 54
UNC Greensboro 34 2nd Half 12:03
East Carolina 57
Marist 28 2nd Half 11:50
Elon 46
NJIT 43 2nd Half 13:13
Lafayette 45
Cincinnati Christian 34 2nd Half 12:59
Liberty 41
Morgan State 27 2nd Half 15:55
Marquette 43
Campbell 29 2nd Half 12:48
Samford 42
Bucknell 52 2nd Half 11:09
Siena 50
Long Beach State 44 2nd Half 16:13
Syracuse 51
Coppin State 49 2nd Half 12:54
Evansville 58
UMKC 35 2nd Half 13:29
Indiana State 39
Hofstra 45 2nd Half
Long Island 25
Coast Guard 7 1st Half 13:07
Army 19
Thomas (GA) 11 1st Half 11:22
High Point 19
Texas Southern 4 1st Half 12:45
Kansas State 13
Rutgers 14 1st Half 9:47
Monmouth 19
NC Wesleyan 13 1st Half 10:35
NC A&T 11
South Dakota St 6 1st Half 11:55
Northern Iowa 9
Central Penn College 4 1st Half 16:28
Radford 12
Bowling Green 17 1st Half 10:28
South Florida 13
Harris-Stowe 15 1st Half 10:30
SE Missouri St 17
Robert Morris-IL 11 1st Half 10:41
SIU Edwardsville 21
Northland College 21 1st Half 11:04
North Dakota St 19
Milwaukee 11 1st Half 11:26
South Dakota 18
Northwestern St 2:30 PM
Arkansas
Saint Peters 3:00 PM
Cornell
St Katherine 3:00 PM
Fresno State
Haskell 3:00 PM
Oral Roberts
Wake Forest 3:00 PM
Richmond
Fla Gulf Coast 3:00 PM
Xavier
SD Christian 3:05 PM
Northern Ariz
Judson 3:30 PM
IUPU-Ft Wayne
Ill-Chicago 4:00 PM
Bradley
Loyola-Maryland 4:00 PM
Fairfield
Miss Valley St 4:00 PM
Houston
Lehigh 4:00 PM
UMBC
Delaware State 4:00 PM
Temple
Belmont 5:00 PM
Butler
Howard 5:00 PM
Fordham
NW Christian 5:00 PM
Nevada
UC Davis 5:00 PM
Washington St
Abilene Christian 5:00 PM
Grand Canyon
UCLA 5:30 PM
Alabama
Stony Brook 7:00 PM
Washington
Buffalo 7:00 PM
Wisconsin
CS-Bakersfield 9:00 PM
California
Cincinnati 17 FINAL
Virginia Tech 33
(15) Arizona State 36 FINAL
Duke 31
Miami-Florida 21 FINAL
So Carolina 24
Boston College 30 FINAL
Penn State 31
(25) Nebraska 42 FINAL
(24) USC 45
Texas A&M 12/29/14 1:00 PM
West Virginia
Oklahoma 12/29/14 4:30 PM
(18) Clemson
Arkansas 12/29/14 8:00 PM
Texas
Notre Dame 12/30/14 2:00 PM
(22) LSU
(13) Georgia 12/30/14 5:45 PM
(20) Louisville
Maryland 12/30/14 9:00 PM
Stanford
(9) Ole Miss 12/31/14 11:30 AM
(6) TCU
(21) Boise State 12/31/14 3:00 PM
(12) Arizona
(8) Miss State 12/31/14 7:00 PM
(10) Georgia Tech
(19) Auburn 1/1/15 11:00 AM
(17) Wisconsin
(7) Michigan State 1/1/15 11:30 AM
(4) Baylor
(16) Missouri 1/1/15 12:00 PM
Minnesota
(2) Florida State 1/1/15 4:00 PM
(3) Oregon
(5) Ohio State 1/1/15 7:30 PM
(1) Alabama
Houston 1/2/15 11:00 AM
Pittsburgh
Iowa 1/2/15 2:20 PM
Tennessee
(11) Kansas State 1/2/15 5:45 PM
(14) UCLA
Washington 1/2/15 9:15 PM
Oklahoma State
East Carolina 1/3/15 11:00 AM
Florida
Toledo 1/4/15 8:00 PM
Arkansas State
Drexel 71 FINAL
Miami-Ohio 54
Holy Cross 63 FINAL
Norfolk State 62
East Carolina 62 FINAL
South Florida 69
(10) Oregon State 63 FINAL
(8) Tennessee 74
Providence 51 FINAL
Boston College 79
Florida A&M 47 FINAL
Miami-Florida 83
Oakland 69 FINAL
Central Michigan 74
Chattanooga 59 FINAL
SIU-Edwardsville 49
Fairfield 59 FINAL
La Salle 73
St Francis-PA 32 2nd Half 13:12
Pittsburgh 57
Milwaukee 45 2nd Half 11:10
IUPU-Ft Wayne 46
Gardner-Webb 38 2nd Half 11:32
Longwood 38
New Hampshire 36 2nd Half 8:58
Manhattan 38
Bucknell 48 2nd Half 11:14
Binghamton 42
Northeastern 53 2nd Half 7:38
Albany 49
George Mason 39 2nd Half 10:06
Towson 46
Richmond 34 2nd Half 13:38
William & Mary 41
Tulane 32 2nd Half 18:58
Cincinnati 20
North Florida 32 2nd Half 14:12
Florida 42
(14) Georgia 41 2nd Half 12:36
Seton Hall 39
Tennessee St 45 2nd Half 15:20
(12) Kentucky 59
American Univ 43 2nd Half 12:01
Wake Forest 55
Massachusetts 58 2nd Half 13:56
Boston U 38
Quinnipiac 43 2nd Half 14:16
Saint Josephs 39
Lafayette 38 2nd Half 9:08
Saint Peters 22
Northwestern 45 2nd Half 11:45
(20) Michigan State 33
Duquesne 60 2nd Half 8:08
Lehigh 60
George Washington 46 2nd Half 12:00
Loyola-Maryland 32
(17) Rutgers 34 2nd Half 14:30
Indiana 29
(24) Green Bay 52 2nd Half 9:59
Dayton 46
Western Mich 20 1st Half 2:53
Stony Brook 21
Davidson 30 2nd Half
Virginia 34
UNC Greensboro 0 1st Half 19:23
LSU 4
Denver 8 1st Half 11:10
North Texas 8
VA Commonwealth 8 1st Half 10:10
Coppin State 20
Huston-Tillotson 6 1st Half 8:15
Houston Baptist 29
Lamar 16 1st Half 9:31
Rice 20
Miss Valley St 14 1st Half 8:57
Alabama 14
Saint Louis 18 1st Half 10:45
Eastern Illinois 4
Middle Tennessee 19 1st Half 11:59
Tenn Tech 14
Penn State 7 1st Half 12:23
(23) Iowa 16
Purdue 18 1st Half 9:15
Illinois 11
DePaul 10 1st Half 13:58
Illinois State 12
Sam Houston St 4 1st Half 12:32
Wichita State 15
South Dakota 2:30 PM
TX-San Antonio
(4) Notre Dame 3:00 PM
UCLA
Coll of Charleston 3:00 PM
SC State
Alcorn State 3:00 PM
Texas-El Paso
Dartmouth 3:00 PM
Niagara
Colgate 3:00 PM
Siena
Michigan 3:00 PM
Wisconsin
Fla Gulf Coast 3:00 PM
CS-Northridge
Yale 3:30 PM
(25) Arizona State
UC Santa Barbara 4:00 PM
(16) Stanford
Long Island 4:00 PM
Long Beach St
Jackson State 4:00 PM
Louisiana
Eureka 4:30 PM
Western Ill
Cornell 5:00 PM
(22) Syracuse
Temple 7:30 PM
Memphis
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