Gophers take first NCAA title in 23 years

Drought is over

Posted: Sunday, April 07, 2002

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Minnesota had been waiting 23 years for an NCAA hockey title, so nobody minded that the winning goal was scored by someone from out of state.

Grant Potulny scored on a power play 16:58 into overtime, giving the Golden Gophers a 4-3 victory over Maine on Saturday night -- their first championship since 1979.

''When I came here, the guys didn't even blink an eye,'' said Potulny, a sophomore from Grand Forks, N.D., who scored twice in Minnesota's semifinal victory over Michigan on Thursday night.

''I've got that 'M' tattooed on my chest, and I'm a Golden Gopher for the rest of my life.''

Minnesota was less than a minute from having to wait at least another year for its elusive fourth national title, but Matt Koalska tied it on a sixth-attacker goal with 52.4 seconds left in regulation after the Black Bears took a 3-2 lead with 4:33 remaining on Robert Liscak's goal.

''It was our time,'' said Gophers coach Don Lucia, who opened the state's borders for the first time in more than a decade when he recruited Potulny.

John Pohl had a goal and two assists for the Golden Gophers, 4-8 in NCAA title games. Minnesota (32-8-4) also played in the 1989 championship in St. Paul, losing to Harvard in overtime.

''Our leadership was tremendous,'' Lucia said. ''They found out today how hard it was to win one.''

The game marked the fourth time in the last five seasons that the title game has gone to overtime and the fifth in seven seasons.

It was a bitter end to an emotional season for the Black Bears.

Maine (26-11-7) was wearing green shamrock-shaped patches on their jerseys in honor of Shawn Walsh, the coach who died of cancer before the season began. Walsh led the Black Bears to titles in 1993 and '99.

''It was a crazy game,'' interim coach Tim Whitehead said. ''As we've learned already very well this year, life doesn't always end up in the storybook ending you'd like it to.''

Michael Schutte, who scored two goals, was called for tripping Koalska with 4:02 left in overtime, giving the Gophers their power play.

Overtime penalties are rarely called, so Maine was upset with the call on Schutte by referee Steve Piotrowski, especially because Minnesota goalie Adam Hauser could've been whistled for high-sticking earlier in the overtime.

The referees were not made available for comment.

''Obviously you don't blame the game on the refs,'' Black Bears captain Peter Metcalf said, ''but a lot of things could've been prevented.''

Metcalf said he remembered Piotrowski ejecting Walsh from a game last season.

''It seems like someone had it in for us,'' Metcalf said. ''I think someone should've taken note and kept him out of the game.''

Pohl, who finished as the nation's scoring leader with 78 points, assisted on the game-winning goal, dropping to puck to Potulny, who put the puck through Maine goalie Matt Yeats' legs.

Hauser, the school's career leader in wins and saves who's been streaky throughout his four-year career, made 30 saves for the Gophers.

Hauser, who took his share of criticism from fans and media, popped out of the dressing room as his team was celebrating and jokingly shouted to a crowd of reporters: ''How you like me now?''

Liscak scored his third goal in two games and put the Black Bears up 3-2 with 4:33 left, silencing the pro-Minnesota crowd. Liscak ended the Gophers' season last year with an overtime goal in the East regional.

Hauser was pulled with 59 seconds remaining in regulation. Pohl controlled the puck off a faceoff in the Maine zone and dropped it back to Koalska, who tied the game with a slap shot.

Whitehead has rotated his goalies throughout the postseason, so Yeats got the start in front of Mike Morrison, who was 20-3-4 this season.

Yates, who made 41 saves, was kept busy on his 23rd birthday.

Keith Ballard put Minnesota up 1-0 in the first period on a power-play goal, but Maine played intense defense the whole game -- keeping the Gophers from getting a shot on goal during a 5-on-3 that lasted more than a minute.

The Black Bears' persistence paid off on a power play in the second period, when Metcalf set up Schutte for an incredibly easy goal that tied it at 1. Skating toward the Black Bears bench, Schutte raised his index finger to his facemask in a taunting attempt to hush the Frozen Four record-crowd of 19,324.

''It was very loud,'' Schutte said. ''Probably the most beautiful thing I've ever seen. I was just having fun out there.''

The Gophers were admittedly outplayed by the Black Bears, but they credited Hauser for staying strong in overtime.

''Maine really took it to us for most of the game,'' Pohl said. ''We were lucky, but Adam really bailed us out.''



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