Soph leads young 'U' to victory
On a team filled with freshmen, it was a sophomore who had played in just 15 career games providing the veteran leadership for the Minnesota Gophers.
Second-year forward Ryan Potulny scored three goals as the Gophers opened the season with a 5-2 win over Denver in a penalty-filled U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame game.
Jon Foster had both goals for the Pioneers, who are the defending national champions.
Potulny had a goal in each period for his first collegiate hat-trick, and showed the way for a Minnesota team with seven rookies in the lineup.
"We've got a lot of guys that are young and trying to get their feet wet," said Potulny, who missed 29 games in his rookie season with a knee injury. "I feel like I have to step up and guys will look at me to score points."
Minnesota's season was barely three minutes old when Potulny's first shot found the back of the Denver net. The Gophers (1-0-0) had a five-on-three advantage for more than a minute and converted when Potulny's low shot got past Denver goalie Glenn Fisher.
"The Gophers did a terrific job," said Denver coach George Gwozdecky. "They were eager and they came at us so hard, especially in the first period. We seemed to be chasing the puck around all night."
The Gophers doubled their lead early in the second when Tyler Hirsch grabbed a loose puck in front of Fisher and backhanded a shot past the goalie.
Denver's first goal of the season came midway through the game when Foster claimed the puck at center ice and came in on Minnesota goaltender Kellen Briggs uncontested. Foster's low shot from 20 feet out beat Briggs between the pads. But Minnesota took less than a minute to re-establish a two-goal lead when Potulny scored short-handed.
"Denver is a good team, and we had to work hard," said Gophers coach Don Lucia. "But we found a way to win, which is important for our young guys."
Denver (0-1-0) pulled within a goal at 3-2 midway through the final period when Foster scored on a power play, but freshman Brent Borgen and Potulny added goals in the final six minutes for Minnesota.
Briggs finished with 32 saves for Minnesota, while Fisher had 30 for Denver.
"Fisher definitely kept us in the game, but you've got to credit Minnesota for burying their chances," said Denver captain Matt Laatsch. "We got three bad periods behind us, and hopefully we've got some things to build on."