Analysis Part II: Breaking down key players

Yesterday we analyzed some key members of the Gophers football and men's basketball teams. Today we take a look at some names that will play big roles for the Gophers men's hockey, women's hockey, women's basketball and wrestling teams.

Monday we highlighted some key players for the Gophers football and men's basketball team. Today we take a look at men's hockey, women's hockey, women' basketball and wrestling.

GRANT POTULNY AND GINO GUYER

With Thomas Vanek and Paul Martin still pondering their future, two key players for the Gophers next season will be Grant Potulny and Gino Guyer. Potulny was the hero of the Gophers 2002 NCAA title run and a leader on the 2003 title team. Guyer was a key cog as a freshman last year, and the Dallas Stars draft pick will be counted on even more in 2003-2004, especially if Vanek or Martin turn pro.

Potulny will be joined this season by younger brother Ryan Potulny, who was the USHL Player of the Year last year. Grant was selected in the fifth round of the NHL Entry Draft by Ottawa out of Grand Forks Red River High School. While Grant first made headlines as the first outstate player to sign with the Gophers in the Don Lucia era, his knack for scoring timely goals, and his presence in the locker room makes him one of the most valuable Gophers. Potulny missed 22 games last season with injury, but the good thing was it was early in the season. Potulny (15 goals, 8 assists) isn't asked to score a lot, but he does the little things that open up play for players like Vanek, Martin, Troy Riddle and Keith Ballard.

While Vanek stole the spotlight last season, he wasn't the only freshman star last year. Guyer, (13 goals, 16 assists) had no problem adjusting to Division I hockey, and made an immediate impact. A 2002 graduate of Minnesota's Coleraine High, Guyer was named Mr. Hockey Minnesota after his senior season, given to the state's most outstanding senior. The 5-11, 189-pound Guyer is a mixture of strength and speed and will be counted on to improve on last year's offensive numbers in 2003-2004.

WORTH WATCHING:

Travis Weber and Justin Johnson – Once considered the weak spot of the team, these goalies are as good as any duo in the WCHA, and have big-game experience.

Troy Riddle – the high-flying forward is a magician with the puck, and can score anywhere, anytime.

Barry Tallackson – Rugged, athletic, physical – the kind of guy you would want on your side when things get rough.

NATALIE DARWITZ AND KRISSY WENDELL

These Olympians are synonymous with Minnesota hockey, first at the prep and international level, and now at the college level. The sky is the limit for this tandem, and last season was just a precursor of what to expect. Both were finalists for the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award, which recognizes the accomplishments of the most outstanding player in Division I women's hockey each season.

Darwitz led the team in scoring with 33 goals and 35 assists and had four hat tricks, 10 power-play goals and five game-winning goals.

Wendell played in 25 games as a freshman, scoring 55 points. Wendell missed eight games due to a fractured clavicle, but before her injury, Wendell ranked third in WCHA scoring, and sixth in the nation, averaging 2.30 points per game.

The Gophers finished the 2002-2003 season 27-8-1 while advancing to the NCAA Frozen Four for the second straight year. The Gophers took fourth last season as WCHA rival Minnesota-Duluth won its third consecutive title, but with Darwitz and Wendell back the Gophers are expected to be one of the premiere teams in all of college hockey again next season.

WORTH WATCHING:

LaToya Clarke – Often lost in the shadow of the big names, Clarke is a superstar who gets all the credit on any other team.

Ashley Albrecht – The former Ms. Minnesota High School hockey had a roller coaster freshman campaign. Any improvement and she will be a big boost.

Brenda Reinen and Jody Horak – Like the men's team, this tandem is as good as it gets in the WCHA.

LINDSAY WHALEN AND LIZ PODOMINICK

There was not a more exciting athlete at the University of Minnesota last season than Lindsay Whalen. There wasn't a more prolific athlete at the Minnesota high school level than former Lakeville High standout Liz Podominick. Together, this tandem could make an already good women's basketball program even better. Minnesota completed its finest season in the NCAA era, posting a 25-6 record and advancing to the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16 for the first time in school history last season. The Gophers also recorded their best mark in Big Ten play at 12-4, good for a second-place tie.

Whalen is the catalyst of the team, the sparkplug, the energizer, and the glue that holds it all together. A lot is riding on her shoulders, but the 5-8 senior from Hutchinson (MN) High has met every challenge head on. Whalen led the Golden Gophers in scoring (20.6 ppg.) and assists (6.2 apg.) and was a unanimous All-Big Ten Conference first-team selection and named to numerous All-American teams.

Podominick comes to the Gophers as one of the most highly touted recruits in a long time. The 6-2 Podominick will be a solid inside presence for the Gophers. Podominick won two state titles at Lakeville High School, and was an All-American in the shot put and discus for the Panthers. Podominick was also a McDonald's All-American, and should make an immediate impact.

WORTH WATCHING:

Janel McCarville – Baby Shaq can flat out get it done inside. Will benefit from Podominick.

Jamie Broback – The freshman was Podominick's biggest rival in high school. The two played in the same conference, and the battles were epic. Future looks bright.

Shannon Schonrock – Someone has to take pressure off Whalen, it could be Schonrock.

DAMION HAHN AND JACOB VOLKMANN

The Gophers wrestling team finished second in the nation behind Oklahoma State last season, after winning back-to-back NCAA titles in 2001 and 2002. With legendary coach J Robinson at the helm, the Gophers don't rebuild, they reload, and this year the Gophers will be aiming for their fourth consecutive Big Ten Conference title.

Leading the way is senior Damion Hahn, the defending 197-pound national champion. Hahn, a three-time All-American, will attempt to win back-to-back titles in 2003-04.

Jacob Volkmann finished third at last year's NCAA meet, 31-7 overall. The two-time All-American will be a favorite to win a national title this season, his senior year.

WORTH WATCHING:

Cole Konrad - freshman captured the freestyle and Greco-Roman titles at the 2003 FILA Junior National Championships/Junior World Team Trials in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Roger Kish - Kish dominated Michigan high school scene last three years, winning over 180 matches and three state titles. Kish is the all-time winningest high school wrestler ever.

Josh McLay – the former three-time Minnesota state high school champion needs to improve to make the lineup, but if he does, the Gophers will be that much closer to that fourth Big Ten title.

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

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