March 21, 2003
WCHA Semifinals

Tigers, Tigers, Everywhere

Other Tournament Coverage

By Jess Myers

ST. PAUL, Minn. – There's an old legend about facing a wild animal in the wilderness. The last thing you want to do is startle them. It's almost the same way if you're a hockey team and you come across a Tiger on the ice, except the big no-no against Colorado College is to take a penalty.

Minnesota-Duluth got to its first Final Five in a half-decade by using an above-average penalty kill, and they looked good again Friday versus the Tigers. But facing the nation's top team, and top power play unit, sooner or later you're going to take one penalty too many.

Colorado College 4,
Minnesota-Duluth 3 OT
Team Goal Str
Time Assists

First Period

1-MD Neil Petruic (6) EV
5:57 L. Stauffacher, B. Hammond
Second Period
1-CC Colin Stuart (13) SH
0:56 J. Cullen
2-MD Junior Lessard (20) EV
10:34 T. Brosz, B. Geisler
2-CC Trevor Frischman (3) EV
11:43 S. Polaski, M. Stuart
3-MD Tim Stapleton (14) EV
12:41 B. Hammond, J. Lessard
Third Period
3-CC Tom Preissing (22) PP
9:05 P. Sejna, M. Stuart
4-CC Brett Sterling (23) EV
7:18 T. Liebel
MD: Rob Anderson, 67:18, 37 saves, 4 GA
CC: Curtis McElhinney, 67:18, 20 saves, 3 GA
Penalties: MD 7/14; CC 4/8
Power Plays: MD 0-4; CC 1-7
Attendance: 17,012

"Our killers did a great job, but unfortunately we didn't kill the one we really needed to," said Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin.

Bulldog fans can take solace in the fact that they killed six CC power plays in the semifinal. But that seventh one was – pun intended – a killer. UMD goalie Rob Anderson was whistled for slashing with less than 12 minutes left in regulation and the Bulldogs hanging on to a 3-2 lead. It took CC defenseman Tom Preissing less than a minute of man-advantage to knot the game, and the Tigers eventually won 4-3 in overtime on Brett Sterling's goal.

Anderson later reflected about the collective talent of the likes of Preissing, Sterling, Clarke and Sejna, and what a bad idea it is to put them up by a man once, let alone seven times.

"Any time you put those guys on the power play that many times, it's just a matter of time before they do something special," said the goalie.

The Tigers had nothing but compliments for their opponents afterwards. Coach Scott Owens noted that UMD didn't look like a team that had played five games in eight days. And Sterling admitted that the Bulldogs had them befuddled on special teams. For a while anyway.

"We struggled on the power play," he said. "They had a really good penalty kill forecheck going. But eventually we settled down and made some adjustments."

And for the handful of Tigers fans in attendance, the key adjustment that landed in the back of the UMD net came not a moment too soon.

Minnesota 3,
Minnesota State, Mankato 2 OT
Team Goal Str
Time Assists

First Period

1-MS Grant Stevenson (27) EV
1:54 S. Joseph, A. Forsythe
1-UM Barry Tallackson (6) EV
4:42 K. Ballard
Second Period
2-MS B.J. Abel (12) PP
14:30 C. Bassett, G. Stevenson
Third Period
2-UM Grant Potulny (10) PP
1:58 K. Ballard, P. Martin
3-UM Thomas Vanek (26) EV
3:57 T. Riddle, C. Harrington
MS: Jon Volp, 63:57, 46 saves, 3 GA
UM: Justin Johnson, 63:57, 14 saves, 2 GA
Penalties: MS 7/14; UM 4/8
Power Plays: MS 1-3; UM 1-6
Attendance: 17,012


Minnesota forward Grant Potulny used to love the Xcel Energy Center. Then he hated the place. Now he likes it again. Such is the up-and-down world of playing in St. Paul when you're a Gopher.

Eleven months ago the rink was heaven for the winger from Grand Forks, N.D., when he scored the OT winner in the NCAA title game. In October, when the Gophers played Ohio State in the Hall of Fame Game there, the X was somewhere south of heaven for Grant, who broke his ankle in the game and missed more than two months of the season.

In Friday night's WCHA Final Five semifinal win over Minnesota State, Mankato, Potulny and the X patched things up, as he scored the tying goal before Thomas Vanek won it in overtime.

"It was kind of emotional for me," said Potulny. "If I would've scored in the same end of the rink where I got hurt, I was going to go kick the boards. But I've got no more hard feelings about this place now."

Potulny is a junior and a leader on a team that has been sparked by the play of Vanek, a freshman who lately plays like a rookie – an NHL rookie, that is. So when overtime came, one might think that the rookie went to the veteran for advice. To the contrary, Vanek said that the Gophers are Potulny's show, and he's just along for the ride.

"After the third period, I just sat back and let the old guys talk," said Vanek, drawing a laugh from the assembled media. "Guys like Grant have all of the experience. I just ride the bus."

And a few minutes into OT, in a game Minnesota dominated end-to-end, Vanek parked the bus. His rising shot from the left circle glanced off Mavericks goalie Jon Volp's right shoulder and settled into the upper corner of the net, sending Minnesota to the title game for a second consecutive year.

"If I would've moved over a quarter of an inch, the puck would've hit my shoulder squarely and bounced away," said Volp, who finished with 46 saves. "But give him credit for a great shot."

And for Potulny, being in a building he loves, again, gives the Gophers a great shot at a WCHA playoff title.


• After telling reporters that his team had no chance of making the NCAAs after Sunday's loss in Duluth, St. Cloud State coach Craig Dahl went back home, took a close look at the Pairwise rankings, and had his team on the ice for practice on Thursday night and again on Friday.

• WCHA commissioner Bruce McLeod missed the league's awards dinner and the Thursday night play-in game due to the blizzard that hit Colorado. Not only could McLeod not get a flight out of Denver, he couldn't even get out of his own neighborhood until late Thursday. After a little help from friends in high
places who called the president of Northwest Airlines to get McLeod on a "priority list," the former Minnesota-Duluth player and athletic director finally
arrived in St. Paul on Friday afternoon, just in time to see the Bulldogs fall to CC.

• Interesting sign of the times across the street from the arena: In these days of war and heightened homeland security, visitors to the central heating plant (which supplies heat to all of downtown St. Paul's buildings) across Kellogg Boulevard from the rink are greeted at the door by two St. Paul police officers in camouflage riot gear, carrying machine guns.

• The general consensus among those in the know about the ways of the NCAA say it's fortunate that the national tournament was expended to 16 teams prior to the demise of the Fairfield and Iona programs. It's unknown whether the NCAA would've gone for 16 of 58 teams making the nationals, but 16 of 60 was apparently more palatable.

• Clever band note of the night: Every time Gophers goalie Justin Johnson made a big save, Minnesota's pep band cranks into "Any Way You Want It" by Journey. That song was made famous in the 1980 movie "Caddyshack" and Johnson's helmet is adorned with the likeness of "Mr. Gopher" from the film.


To Minnesota-Duluth strength coach Justin May, for getting his team ready to play on roughly 12 hours rest. Sandelin said before the tournament start that if the Bulldogs could win on Thursday and they were ready to go again on Friday, May would deserve a raise. Sandy, taking the nation's top team to OT after a short night should be worth a little extra dough-re-mi.

To Ralph Engelstad Arena rink announcer Scott Hennen, for his enthusiastic and unbiased work at the microphone during Thursday's play-in game. The voice of the Sioux could have made the X feel like the home of the Sioux, but he was balanced throughout, which showed real class. And his voice is the best in the WCHA.

To Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty for appearing on the WCHA's Internet radio broadcast prior to the Gophers-Mavericks game. Say what you want about the guy's policies, but Timmy's a hockey fan. And after 12 years of Gopher hoops fans and Timberwolves fans in the Minnesota Guv's Mansion, that's a welcome change.

To Colorado College and Minnesota-Duluth for not bringing bands to the Friday afternoon semifinal. Sure, the in-rink deejay is good, but what's college hockey without at least one pep band? At least both schools had good excuses. The Bulldog band was in Duluth playing for their women's team at the Frozen Four, and Colorado College doesn't have a band. As one Tigers' fan explained, "There are only 1,800 kids at the whole school!" Hey, it only takes about 15 to make a pep band.

For the guy who tried to get on Fox Sports Net with the "Finish Saddam Now" sign. Dude, there's a time for war and a time for hockey. Let's keep them separate.


To Friday night national anthem singer Esera Tuaolo. This former Minnesota Viking defensive tackle showed great courage and made headlines in the past year when he admitted being gay, and he's got a great singing voice. But the 90-second version of the anthem is SOOOO much better than his three-minute version.


For the Gophers it's about a banner. For the Tigers, it's about a trophy. For both, it's about what comes next week. Minnesota and Colorado College meet for the WCHA Final Five championship Saturday night, as the Gophers seek to win their first playoff title since 1996, and the Tigers seek to win their first ever.

The winner gets the Broadmoor Trophy, named after the Colorado Springs hotel and arena where Tiger hockey was born.

"We've never won the trophy that's named after the place that gave birth to our program, so to do it here would be a great honor," said Tigers coach Scott Owens.

For Minnesota's Grant Potulny, he looks at the title game as a chance to do in one night what it took the Tigers all season to do.

"One game to get a banner," he said. "The Tigers took all year to win the regular season banner. If we play well in one game, we'll have a championship banner too."

CC is expected to be a No. 1 seed in the NCAAs regardless of what happens Saturday night. For the Gophers, a win might earn them a top seed too.

Minnesota-Duluth and Minnesota State, Mankato will play for third place at 2 p.m. CST. The Mavericks are assured of an NCAA bid, while the Bulldogs – 21st in Saturday's latest Pairwise – are going home on Sunday with no more hockey to play.

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