The rich get richer

The USHL pipeline has been a key to Minnesota's success in men's hockey the past two seasons. By adding USA Hockey Junior Player of the Year Ryan Potulny of the Lincoln Stars, and with eight other USHL players expected to join the team in the coming years, the Gophers expect to add plenty of talent to an already loaded lineup.

The rich are definitely getting richer.

Minnesota Gophers hockey recruit and Lincoln Stars forward Ryan Potulny has been named the USA Hockey Junior Player of the Year by a panel of junior hockey coaches and administrators. The award is given out annually to the most outstanding American-born player in junior hockey.

Potulny, a native of Grand Forks, North Dakota and brother of Gophers stalwart Grant Potulny, was the United States Hockey League's (USHL) leading scorer in 2002-2003, and helped lead the Stars to the Clark Cup – the national championship of American Junior A hockey. During the regular season Potulny scored 78 points (35 goals, 43 assists) in 54 games. He led the league in assists and plus-minus at +32. In the playoffs Potulny totaled 17 points (six goals, 11 assists) as Lincoln went 9-1 on its way to the Clark Cup. Potulny was also named the USHL's Top Forward and the USHL Player of the Year.

"This is a great honor for me," said Potulny. "To win this award, especially since there are so many great players throughout the United States, is big."

As a rookie in the USHL Potulny totaled 57 points (23 goals and 34 assists). His 1.18 points-per-game average over his two-year USHL career ranks as one of the highest totals in league history.

"Ryan is a tremendous player who has always had big numbers offensively," said Lincoln coach and general manager Steve Johnson. "His overall game keeps improving which has made him an elite player."

Potulny adds more weapons to the two-time defending national champion Gophers, who lose only one senior from last year's title team. In fact, the USHL pipeline has been a key reason for the Gophers' success the past two seasons. Gophers Grant Potulny (Lincoln), Matt Koalska (Twin Cities Vulcans) Thomas Vanek (Sioux Falls Stampede), Chris Harrington (Omaha Lancers), Keith Ballard (Omaha Lancers) and Matt DeMarchi (North Iowa Huskies) all played in the USHL before coming to Minnesota.

"I think it's a terrific developmental league," said Gophers coach Don Lucia in USA Junior Hockey magazine. "It's everything from the quality of coaching to the weight training. Players learn what it takes to be a great player. It's the best league in North America."

And if Gophers fans are wondering what type of impact Potulny will have next season when he joins the Gophers, Lucia might have summed it up best.

"If you're a top player in the USHL, you'll be able to walk right in at our level," he said.

The rich indeed may have just got richer – a lot richer.

USHL-MINNESOTA CONNECTION

Below is a list of USHL players who have committed to play for the Minnesota Gophers:

Derek Peltier, Cedar Rapids Roughriders

Jake Taylor, Green Bay Gamblers

Ryan Potulny, Lincoln Stars

Brent Borgen, Lincoln Stars

Danny Irmen, Lincoln Stars

Mike Howe, River City Lancers

Mike Vannelli, Sioux Falls Stampede

Kellen Briggs, Sioux Falls Stampede



Matt Krumrie covers Gophers hockey for GoldenSports.net. He can be reached at gopherhockeyinsider@yahoo.com

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